New lawsuit, motion filed in ongoing legal battle - Word&Way

New lawsuit, motion filed in ongoing legal battle

Jefferson City — Missouri Baptists may need to steel themselves for a third lawsuit in the continuing legal battle between the Missouri Baptist Convention and five institutions.

The convention, through the Executive Board, and six affiliated churches filed legal action in August 2002 against The Baptist Home, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University, Windermere Baptist Conference Center and Word&Way to force the entities to rescind new charters filed in 2000 and 2001.

The new charters gave each institution the authority to elect its own trustees. In the past, the convention had elected them.

On Oct. 26, six individuals filed a motion to intervene in the three-year-old case currently pending before Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown.

Those filing the motion include Robert Curtis, pastor of Ballwin Baptist Church and MBC president in 2002; Lyn Heying, messenger from New Oakland Baptist Church, Ralls County; Mitchell Jackson, pastor of Miner Baptist Church, Sikeston and 2005 MBC president; James Moore, messenger from Concord Baptist Church, Festus; James Plymale, messenger from First Baptist Church, Villa Ridge; and Ralph Sawyer, pastor of First Baptist Church, Wentzville, and newly elected 2006 MBC president.

The motion claims that all individuals, except Moore, have been messengers to annual meetings since 1999. Messengers to the convention elected each to serve as a trustee on one of the five institutions' boards. However, only Plymale, an MBU trustee, was actually serving on that board at the time the entity changed its charter.

Missouri state law provides an opportunity for an individual to request to intervene in a legal action when the person claims he has an interest in property or the transactions at issue and that his interest might not be adequately protected.

He also can be allowed to intervene if a state statute gives him the right, when his claim shares a fact or a question of law with the case, or if the case affects the public interest.

Third lawsuit

In addition, the six men filed a separate legal action on Oct. 26 that mirrors the original lawsuit filed in 2002 and a second legal action filed by the Executive Board and five individuals in 2004. The five plaintiffs were Curtis, Heying, Jackson, Moore and Plymale.

In March 2004, Judge Brown dismissed the original case on the grounds that the Executive Board and the churches did not have standing – the legal right – to file the lawsuit.

On appeal, a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District ruled that the churches did not have standing, but that the Executive Board could represent the convention. The judges decided that individual messengers are members of the convention and that because the Executive Board is composed of members, the board as members, not as a governing body, could represent the convention.

On the day the 2004 annual meeting was to convene, the MBC filed the second legal action. Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan dismissed that case on Oct. 12, primarily because it duplicated the first case. Judge Callahan also declined to combine the two cases.

While it is essentially the same as the second lawsuit, the third legal action claims The Baptist Home conspired to interfere in the Foundation's decision to change its charter.

The new lawsuit claims a broad conspiracy that includes former MBC executive director Jim Hill and Columbia attorney W.B. "Bart" Tichenor. In their petition, the plaintiffs also claim to be "representatives of all members of the convention."

Foundation attorney Laurence Tucker noted that generally it is unusual for individuals filing a motion to intervene in a legal action to file another petition instead of filing an amendment to the original case. MBC lawyers have argued that the Executive Board as members can adequately represent the convention.

A status conference on the original suit is set for 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 10 at the Cole County Courthouse. (11-02-05)