Convention finally files its legal appeal - Word&Way

Convention finally files its legal appeal

By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer

The Missouri Baptist Convention finally has filed an appeal in its ongoing legal battle with five affiliated entities.

The MBC continues to seek to overturn revised charters for The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University, Missouri Baptist Foundation, Windermere Baptist Conference Center and Word&Way.

In 2000 and 2001, the five institutions changed their charters to allow each entity to elect its own trustees. In the past, the convention had elected board members.

The MBC Executive Board and six representative churches filed legal action against the five entities in August 2002. On March 24, Judge Thomas Brown ruled the plaintiffs did not have standing — the legal right — to file the lawsuit and dismissed the case.

The convention sought to amend the original petition by substituting individual messengers for the six churches. On April 7, Judge Brown denied the motion to amend and allowed his March ruling to stand. MBC attorneys filed a notice of appeal to the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District on April 16 to contest Judge Brown's decisions.

In the brief filed on Dec. 6, the MBC argues that the appeal is "about righting two wrongs" the convention has suffered — that the entities denied the MBC its rights but kept all the assets the convention had assigned to each and that the MBC has not had its "day in court" to prove whether the entities had acted illegally.

In its introduction, MBC attorneys argue, "The convention should not suffer the risk and cost of having to start over with a new action." But the MBC already had filed a new lawsuit — on Oct. 25 — listing the convention and five individual messengers as plaintiffs.

After the notice of appeal was filed, the appellants — in this case, the MBC and six churches — had to file the record on appeal, the background information from the lower court activity.

MBC lawyers twice filed a request to extend the deadline for filing the record on appeal — once in an effort to secure some missing transcripts and another when a lightning strike knocked out a court reporter's computer.

Once the record on appeal had been turned in, MBC attorneys could file the actual appeal. They filed two time extensions before completing the appeal brief.

The respondents, the five agencies, must file a response brief — their arguments for why the lower court ruling should be allowed to stand — by Jan. 3, 2005. Then through a reply brief, MBC attorneys will be allowed to respond to the institutions. That brief must be filed within 15 days after the entities file their response.

The appeals court will schedule a time for oral arguments, probably in February or March.

In related action, MBC lawyers have filed a request for a Cole County Circuit judge other than Judge Brown to hear the newest lawsuit. Since Judge Brown is the presiding judge for the Cole County Circuit, he will reassign the case. (12-16-04)