Circuit Court dismisses second lawsuit - Word&Way

Circuit Court dismisses second lawsuit

Jefferson City — The Missouri Baptist Convention's second lawsuit against five institutions was dismissed Oct. 12, primarily because it duplicates an earlier legal action filed by the MBC.

The convention filed suit against the Missouri Baptist Foundation, The Baptist Home, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Missouri Baptist University and Word&Way in August 2002 in an effort to force trustees for the five to reverse changes in the entities' charters.

In 2000 and 2001, trustees for each entity authorized new charters that would allow each institution to elect its own board members.

After Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown dismissed that legal action on March 11, 2004, MBC attorneys appealed the decision. The convention filed the second case on Oct. 25, 2004, while the first case was pending on appeal.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan allowed limited activity in the second legal action as the first case made its way through the state appeals process.

In a hearing before Callahan on Oct. 11, attorneys for the institutions sought to have the second case dismissed. MBC lawyers asked that the two cases be combined, with the combined action to be placed in Callahan's court.

Defense attorneys, led by Kurt Odenwald of Guilfoil Petzall & Shoemake, argued that the two Baptist cases are similar enough that the second case is not necessary. The two cases deal with the same key issue — whether the institutions had the legal right to develop new charters.

They also argued that the MBC seeks the same outcome in both cases — that the entities return to the same relationship with the convention before the charters were changed. In other words, the MBC would elect each board's trustees and would have to approve any amendments to each corporation's articles.

Convention attorney G. Stanton Masters of Mitchell, Kristl & Lieber stressed that the two cases involved different plaintiffs. The first case was brought by the Executive Board and six representative churches. Those churches included First Baptist churches of Arnold, Bethany and Branson; Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City; Oakwood Baptist Church, Kansas City; and Springhill Baptist Church, Springfield.

Five individuals — Robert Curtis, pastor of Ballwin Baptist Church and MBC president in 2002; Lyn Heying, a messenger from New Oakland Baptist Church, Ralls County; Mitchell Jackson, pastor of Miner Baptist Church, Sikeston, and current MBC president; James Moore, messenger from Concord Baptist Church, Festus; and James Plymale, messenger from First Baptist Church, Villa Ridge, and director of mission for Franklin County Baptist Association — were named as plaintiffs on the convention's behalf in the second litigation.

Masters noted the two cases also contain some different issues, but he did not list them in his oral arguments.

Shortly after filing the second legal action, which had been assigned to Judge Brown, the MBC sought and was granted a change in that assignment. Callahan was handed the case. Masters urged the litigation be combined with Callahan as judge to preserve the plaintiffs' choice.

Earlier this year, a state appeals court panel overturned part of Judge Brown's ruling in the first suit. After the state's Supreme Court opted not to hear the case, it was returned to Judge Brown's jurisdiction.

Judge Callahan's Oct. 12 decision means the first case will move forward under Judge Brown. (10-12-05)