By Vicki Brown, Word&Way Associate Editor
Jefferson City — Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown dismissed conspiracy charges filed by the Missouri Baptist Convention against four Baptist entities at a June 27 hearing in Jefferson City. However, the convention may appeal the ruling.
In an order issued on June 27, Judge Brown dismissed conspiracy counts against The Baptist Home, Word&Way, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Windermere Baptist Conference Center.
The judge dismissed the counts against Missouri Baptist University on June 12, based on arguments presented at a hearing June 5.
The conspiracy charges are part of legal action the MBC filed against the five entities in 2002. The convention filed the lawsuit in an attempt to require each agency to rescind changes each made to its corporate charter to elect its own trustees. In the past, messengers to MBC annual meetings elected each institution's board members.
At the June 27 hearing, the judge noted that motions to dismiss the charges filed by the other four entities were similar to the university's motion.
MBC lawyer Michael Whitehead argued that MBU president Alton Lacey and then-MBU board chairman Randall Fullerton, who was also an MBC Executive Board member, influenced their board to change its charter. Lacey, as MBU's president, influenced the other agencies' chief operating officers.
The charter changes were "interlocked," Whitehead said. "They [trustees for each entity] voted with the knowledge of what the others were doing."
Judge Brown responded that the entity heads and chairpersons "did not constitute a majority of any board."
Attorneys have only had about six or seven months in the four years since the case was filed to take depositions and gather other evidence, Whitehead said. Most of the discovery has centered on the primary individuals involved.
"When we talk to others, we believe we will see it was a conspiracy," the lawyer said.
Whitehead pointed out that three institutions are utilizing the same law firm to represent them in the case and that all five entities have listed concerns about liability as a reason to elect their own trustees.
"It shows they were cooperating together…. It will show a pattern," Whitehead argued.
As in the university's case, Judge Brown ruled the MBC's latest amended legal action does not adequately identify a contract between the convention and the four entities.
In its lawsuit, the convention charges all five institutions with breach of contract. The judge ruled the convention must file a new petition to specify which provisions of the MBC's governing documents and the covenant relationship with each the institutions have breached. He granted attorneys two weeks in which to file the new document.
When asked if restated conspiracy charges could be included in the new petition, Judge Brown said he would "take them under advisement."
However, the judge designated his ruling on the conspiracy charges as a final judgment, which would allow the convention to appeal his decision now rather than waiting for a decision on the entire case.
MBC attorneys indicated they may appeal if the judge does not allow the conspiracy charges in the rewritten legal action. An appeal of that decision, however, would not delay the case, Judge Brown said. (06-29-06)