Appeals court declines to dismiss MBC's appeal of Brown's decision on agencies - Word&Way

Appeals court declines to dismiss MBC’s appeal of Brown’s decision on agencies

By Vicki Brown
Word&Way News Writer

The Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, denied a request to dismiss an appeal against five Missouri Baptist Convention-related entities.

Clyde Farris, an attorney representing Missouri Baptist University, filed a motion to dismiss on July 2 because he believed MBC attorneys had missed the court's deadline to file required paperwork. The Court of Appeals denied the motion on July 21.

The dismissal is the latest round in a legal battle between the MBC and five institutions, including Word&Way, The Baptist Home, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and MBU. In 2001, MBU, Windermere, the Foundation and Word&Way chose to elect their own trustees rather than to allow the convention to appoint them. The Baptist Home trustees took the same action a year earlier.

The MBC and six churches – First Baptist churches of Arnold, Bethany and Branson; Concord Baptist, Jefferson City; Oakwood Baptist, Kansas City; and Springhill Baptist, Springfield – filed legal action against the five agencies on Aug. 13, 2002, to seek to force the entities to rescind their charter changes.

Circuit Court of Cole County Judge Thomas Brown dismissed the convention's case against the entities in March this year. Convention attorneys appealed the ruling in April, seeking to overturn Judge Brown's decision.

Farris filed the motion to dismiss before learning that convention attorneys had requested transcripts of hearings that had taken place in Cole County. None of the defendants' lawyers had received notice that MBC attorneys wanted the transcripts, he said.

In written statements to the appeals court, Farris also argued that hearing transcripts were unnecessary because the Cole County hearings did not include new evidence, but were simply oral arguments taken from written materials Judge Brown had been given.

"Normally a transcript comes into play only if there has been a trial," Farris said by phone on July 22. "Normally oral arguments are not transcribed."

MBC attorneys successfully argued in their written statements to the Court of Appeals that "the record on appeal will be incomplete without the transcript which is needed for this Court to make an accurate determination regarding the issues on appeal."

MBC attorneys noted a delay in securing the transcript because of technical difficulties caused by a lightning strike and the court reporter's overloaded schedule.

The convention's record on appeal, which includes the MBC's original petition, all motions, court judgments and pleadings that relate to the case and requested transcripts, was to have been filed by May 17. The Court of Appeals granted an extension to Aug. 16.

Best-case scenario for resolution at the appellate level – if no additional delays surface – would mean convention attorneys must file a brief by Oct. 15. Defendants would have until Nov. 15 to file their own briefs, with the convention's reply due by Nov. 30. The court could hear the case in January 2005, but probably would not decide it until sometime between February and April. (07-29-04)