By Vicki Brown
CAMDENTON — A Camden County case against Windermere Baptist Conference Center will move forward despite an appeal filed in a related case. But Windermere and Missouri Baptist Convention leaders will have to wait for a ruling on several additional motions their attorneys argued in the 26th Judicial Circuit Court on Aug. 19.
Lawyers for the two sides, along with counsel for several other defendants, appeared before Associate Circuit Judge Bruce Colyer in an ongoing legal action the MBC filed against the conference center on Nov. 1, 2006. The 26th Circuit includes Camden County, where Windermere is located.
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 Windermere Development Company Inc., owned by William R. Jester of Springfield.
The MBC filed the Camden County suit in an effort to stop all land transactions at Windermere pending the outcome of legal action the convention had taken against five formerly-affiliated institutions, including the conference center, in Cole County in 2002.
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.
At the Aug. 19 hearing, MBC attorney Charles Hatfield argued that the Camden County lawsuit should be put on hold until an appeal in the Cole County case is settled and asked Judge Colyer to reconsider an earlier denial.
Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan ruled March 4 that the conference center acted legally when it changed its articles of incorporation. The MBC has appealed that decision.
The Camden County court Aug. 19 denied the convention’s request to reconsider the motion to stay he originally turned down on June 10.
Judge Colyer denied a motion by Guilfoil, Petzall & Shoemake of St. Louis, the law firm representing Windermere, to dismiss one count of fraud against the firm and two of its attorneys, Jim Shoemake and Eric Walter. He also ruled that the convention can amend a count to quiet title, the legal process for clearing title to property.
The MBC alleges that the firm and its attorneys, along with Windermere, defrauded the convention of the conference center property when Guilfoil, Petzall & Shoemake filed a notice of release of lien against the land after the Cole County judge ruled in the conference center’s favor on March 4.
The MBC alleges that the filing means the law firm claims an interest in the land, but that the convention has a “superior” claim. The MBC turned over title to Windermere in early 2001, after messengers to the 2000 annual meeting approved creating Windermere as a separate entity. The conference center had been governed by an Executive Board committee.
“We have no claim and they know it,” Walter argued. “This is an attempt to have us disqualified…. We represent our client, Windermere, and nothing more.”
The law firm denies any involvement in fraudulent behavior and alleges there is no conspiracy, Walter added.
The convention seeks to have the law firm removed as Windermere’s legal counsel in the case.
Although Judge Colyer granted the MBC request to amend the wording of its allegation against the law firm, he refused to allow convention attorneys to conduct further discovery — deposing witnesses or requesting additional documents — charging MBC lawyers with “asking permission to go on a fishing expedition.”
The judge delayed ruling on Windermere’s motion to dismiss the case, on a motion to dismiss the MBC as a plaintiff and on a motion to dismiss the convention’s claim to title on the land.
Financial institutions listed as defendants in the case passed on having their motions to dismiss heard on Aug. 19, pending the judge’s ruling on Windermere’s motion.
The institutions include California Plan of Church Finance Inc.; Reliance Trust Co. of Atlanta, Ga.; San Joaquin Bank of Bakersfield, Calif.; First Centennial Bank of Redlands, Calif.; National City Bank of the Midwest, St. Louis; Consolidated Mortgage Inc. of Las Vegas, Nev.; and First American Title Missouri Agency in Fenton.
In addition to Jester, other defendants include former MBC executive director James L. Hill as an individual and his company, RDI Consulting; Jerald “Jerry” Hill; and five Jester companies that Hill heads, Windermere Development Co., Jester Capital Management, The Estates at Windermere and Resource Development Inc. The Lodges at Windermere, another Jester firm, is also listed.