By Vicki Brown
JEFFERSON CITY — Windermere Baptist Conference Center will not face a trial this year in its continued legal battle with the Missouri Baptist Convention. At a hearing on Sept. 10, Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan granted the center’s request to reschedule the jury trial that had been set to begin on Oct. 12.
Windermere attorneys praised the judge’s ruling as an opportunity to present additional information to the court. Convention lawyers tagged the move a “delaying tactic.”
The Sept. 10 hearing and scheduled trial were part of ongoing litigation between the convention and five formerly affiliated institutions. The MBC filed legal action against Windermere, The Baptist Home, Word&Way, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Missouri Baptist University in 2002 in an effort to have the entities’ revised charters declared illegal. The five had changed their corporate charters in 2000 and 2001 to allow trustees to elect each board’s directors.
Judge Callahan ruled after defense attorneys argued that a new motion filed on Aug. 21 might eliminate the need for the trial. The motion, filed on behalf of Windermere, The Home and Word&Way, asks the court to rule on contract claims in the convention’s fifth amended lawsuit.
In its legal action, the MBC claims the entities’ corporate charters and the convention’s governing documents — its constitution and bylaws, its business and financial plan, and the Executive Board’s articles of incorporation and bylaws — create a “contract.”
“We asked for additional time so that the court could consider our motion,” Windermere attorney Kurt Odenwald noted after the hearing. “A lot of information has been provided to the court. We feel this will help all parties, and we believe it may obviate [do away with] the need for a trial.
“Some issues in the motion will apply to all the entities,” he said.
MBC attorney Charles Hatfield saw no reason to reschedule the Windermere trial. “We agreed to hear the case, and all parties are available,” he said. “We saw this as another attempt to delay, apparently a successful one.”
Judge Callahan will hear arguments on the defendants’ motion at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 20. He rescheduled the Windermere trial for Feb. 4-8, 2008, with jury selection set for Feb. 1.
At the Sept. 10 hearing, the judge also denied an MBC request to halt further discovery — requests for information and depositions. Hatfield argued that convention attorneys wanted to concentrate on preparing for the Windermere trial.