By Vicki Brown
CAMDENTON — The Missouri Baptist Convention could face paying more than $10 million to a Springfield developer over land formerly owned by Windermere Baptist Conference Center.
William R. Jester of Springfield filed a counterclaim to legal action the MBC Executive Board; former MBC president Robert Curtis, former pastor of Ballwin Baptist Church; and convention-elected trustees filed in Camden County on Nov. 1, 2006.
As part of a 2006 debt restructuring plan to cover the conference center’s Wilderness Creek expansion, Windermere transferred 943 acres of its 1,300 acres to National City Bank of Cincinnati in late 2005. The bank sold the property to Jester-owned Windermere Development Company Inc.
In its Camden County lawsuit, the convention seeks to stop all land transactions at Windermere pending the outcome of legal action against five formerly-affiliated institutions, including the conference center, filed in Cole County in 2002.
In its suit, the convention also has requested an injunction to prohibit Jester from financing and beginning construction on the property.
The MBC filed legal action against Windermere, The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Word&Way after the five entities changed their corporate charters in 2000 and 2001 to allow each institution to elect its own trustees.
The convention sought to have the Windermere property returned to the MBC as an outcome of that lawsuit. “They tried to take Mr. Jester’s property in the Cole County case without enjoining him or his companies as parties [to that suit],” Jester attorney Burton Shostak of St. Louis noted by telephone on March 31.
Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan ruled March 4 that Windermere had acted legally when its trustees changed the center’s corporate charter. The MBC plans to appeal that ruling.
Jester’s counterclaim charges the convention with making unsubstantiated and negative claims publicly, primarily through the MBC’s news journal The Pathway. Comments “relative to Defendants’ business capabilities, financial capabilities and the status of ownership…are derogatory and were made without any effort to confirm the accuracy…,” the petition notes.
Jester claims the MBC or its representatives warned prospective lenders against financing development of the property. He alleges the convention acted “with evil and malicious intent” and “outrageously when they intentionally interfered with the Defendants’ valid contracts and business expectations.” The MBC also acted “with reckless indifference” to Jester’s rights.
The developer claims the interference has cost him more than $10 million in possible sales or development of the disputed property.
In his counterclaim, Jester is seeking at least $10 million to compensate for those lost profits. He also asks the court to grant punitive damages “in an amount that punishes them.”
“The financial damage they have done to my clients is beyond substantial, and we are looking to the plaintiff individuals and organizations to right that wrong,” Shostak said.
Jester filed his counterclaim against the plaintiffs in the MBC’s suit against him, including the Executive Board; Curtis; and convention-elected trustees Larry Atkins of Laquey, pastor of First Baptist Church, Buckhorn; Don Buford of New Florence, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, Big Spring; James How of Washington; Don Laramore of Caledonia; James Robinson of Branson; and Charles Schrum of Lebanon.
The Executive Board also named Windermere as a defendant in the Camden County lawsuit.
The plaintiffs in the Jester case have 30 days in which to respond. Then depositions will begin, according to Shostak.