By Vicki Brown, Word&Way Associate Editor
Jefferson City — The Missouri Baptist Convention will be allowed to file a fifth amended petition in its legal action against five entities.
Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown issued the ruling on Sept. 19, after hearing arguments in the case a day earlier.
But the judge denied the convention's request to strike a defense claim by Word&Way, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University, Windermere Baptist Conference Center and The Baptist Home that the MBC has no standing or legal right to sue them under Missouri law.
The Sept. 19 ruling marked the latest step in legal action the MBC filed against the five institutions in 2002. The convention filed the lawsuit in an attempt to require the agencies 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 Sept. 18 hearing, MBC lead attorney Michael Whitehead pointed out that the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled in May 2005 that the MBC Executive Board could bring the action on the convention's behalf because the Executive Board is composed of members, and members elect its officers.
However, defense attorneys argued that under state law, only members or directors of the individual corporations or the state's attorney general could file legal action against a corporation.
Judge Brown ruled in November 2003 that the convention is not a member of the university's corporation.
For the first time since the lawsuit's filing, Whitehead noted the MBC "is not claiming" to be a member of the entities' corporations and "not challenging" the trustees' power to change the corporations' charters.
Instead, the convention now claims the entities breached contracts with the MBC and have denied the convention the right to elect trustees under terms of those contracts.
On Sept. 18, Judge Brown also granted MBU attorneys' request to take depositions from Carl Huser, a Southwest Baptist University biology professor who accepted early retirement at the end of the 2005-06 academic year, SBU president Pat Taylor and a corporate representative of the university. Attorneys want to question SBU about the reasons Huser opted for early retirement.
MBU attorney Clyde Farris argued disagreement over allowing evolution to be taught alongside creationism triggered the MBC to force Huser's move at SBU and to withdraw funding from William Jewell College in 2003.
MBC lawyer Stan Masters argued that events involving SBU or Jewell are not relevant since the incidents occurred after the five entities changed their charters.
Judge Brown responded that the legal issue is whether the convention requires only the teaching of Baptist doctrine as a condition of receiving funding.
The judge also pointed out that allowing Farris to take the depositions does not mean that the material would be admissible in court.
Judge Brown extended time for both sides to continue to gather evidence to Feb. 21, 2007.
The convention has 10 days in which to file its fifth amended petition, including a prima facie tort claim. Judge Brown had struck the tort claim from the fourth amended petition at a hearing Aug. 7.
A prima facie tort can be filed when a party believes that a lawful action was taken for malicious reasons to intentionally hurt that party. The convention's tort claim requested that even if the court determines the five entities did have a legal right to change their charters, the court should rule in the MBC's favor anyway on the grounds that the changes were made because the trustees intended to harm the convention. (09-21-06)