Case will move forward despite judge's loss - Word&Way

Case will move forward despite judge’s loss

Jefferson City — The Missouri Baptist Convention's legal action against five formerly affiliated entities will continue despite the defeat of the judge in the case.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown, a Democrat, was defeated for reelection to the post he has held since 1994. Prior to that, he served eight years as an associate circuit judge.

Jon Beetem, a Jefferson City attorney and a Republican, defeated Judge Brown on Nov. 7 by an unofficial count of 15,581 to 13,868.

Some have speculated that an outside infusion of almost $175,000 to conduct a negative campaign against Judge Brown cost him the election.

In a report filed with the Missouri Ethics Committee on Nov. 7, Jefferson City-based Citizens for Judicial Reform said it had spent $173,195.95 to unseat the longtime judge.

For a few weeks leading up to Election Day, the organization aired radio and television ads and flooded county voters with direct mail pieces that labeled Brown as an "activist judge."

The money for the effort came from tax-exempt, Chicago-based Americans for Limited Government, which contributed funds to assist referendums in several states, including efforts by Missourians in Charge to get initiatives on the November ballot on eminent domain and stricter state spending limits. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan turned down both requests because the group had not followed state law.

According to ethics commission records, Citizens for Judicial Reform filed a statement of committee organization on Oct. 6, which the commission recorded on Oct. 10.

Judge Brown has heard most of the Missouri Baptist case, which includes Word&Way, The Baptist Home, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Missouri Baptist University as defendants.

Attorneys note that state law allows districts to determine how cases will be handled when a judge leaves. The incoming circuit judge may take over the incumbent's caseload, or the presiding judge — currently Judge Richard Callahan in Cole County — could reassign some cases. No decisions had been made as of Nov. 8.

The transition might slow the MBC litigation, depending on Judge Brown's caseload. Attorneys in the MBC case are waiting for a date to hear arguments on the latest revision of the petition — the fifth — that Judge Brown allowed the convention to file. Entity lawyers have responded with motions to strike parts of it.

In other action in the MBC case, Judge Brown sustained the university's motion to force the convention to release additional information regarding two other institutions. The decision came during a hearing on Nov. 6.

Farris said that the MBC followed the Southern Baptist Convention's move from "left of center" to "right of center." The political shift meant more control over Baptist universities and colleges to teach a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation. Forcing institutions to teach only creationism could lead to accreditation problems, he said.

The lawyer added that the MBU board took action to elect its own trustees because board members were concerned about who would control what could be taught. The information the university seeks about the convention's break with William Jewell College and with the resignation of a Southwest Baptist University professor might show that the MBC wanted to control MBU as well.

MBC lead attorney Michael Whitehead argued that the convention had already produced records from its interagency relations committee and Executive Board, which, he said, contain all information regarding higher education standards.

Judge Brown pointed out that while not all information collected would be admissible in court, "I believe discovery should be allowed to be as broad as possible."