New court date set to hear Windermere contempt charge - Word&Way

New court date set to hear Windermere contempt charge

Jefferson City — Windermere Baptist Conference Center could face a contempt of court citation stemming a June 1 court order prohibiting sale of timber.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown heard arguments on a contempt motion filed by the Missouri Baptist Convention. The MBC contends that trees continue to be cut around Windermere despite a preliminary injunction Judge Brown issued on June 1. That injunction prohibits the conference center from selling or transferring of property or timber or of incurring further debt secured by real estate without court approval.

Two convention witnesses contended that logging operations continue. Larry Atkins, pastor of Buckhorn Baptist Church, Waynesville, and Don Buford, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, Big Spring, are members of an MBC-elected board for Windermere but are not recognized by Windermere staff or its own elected trustees.

The two men testified they have visited Windermere property since June 1. Atkins said he goes to the conference center grounds almost weekly. Buford tries to get to the campus twice per month or at least once each month, he said.

Atkins said he saw an individual loading logs on June 14 and that "lots of logs" were on the ground.

According to Buford, tree cutting had "expanded tremendously." He said he noticed new areas where logs are stacked to be loaded onto trucks. He also claimed to have heard a chainsaw being used.

Both witnesses admitted that they had not seen anyone actually cutting trees. Buford also testified that he would not have been able to determine whether logs on the ground had been freshly cut. "I couldn't tell the difference because I was not close enough," he said.

Both men said trucks and logs they had seen were on part of the 941 acres Windermere had sold to National City Bank as part of a debt restructuring plan in November 2005.

MBC attorneys contended that Windermere retained timber rights when it transferred title of the property to the bank. In that case, if logging continued after June 1, Windermere could be held in contempt.

Windermere attorneys noted they had contacted the logging company as the judge's order required, and that to the best of their knowledge, no new logging is taking place.

Attorney Jim Shoemake noted that the logging company had paid for the timber in advance.

"The issue is control," Judge Brown said. If Windermere controls the timber or has received payment for timber cut since the injunction was granted, the conference center could be held in contempt.

The judge determined he did not enough evidence to issue a ruling and scheduled a hearing on the contempt motion for 9 a.m. July 6. (06-29-06)