By Vicki Brown
Camdenton — A Camden County judge has delayed ruling on motions to dismiss a Missouri Baptist Convention lawsuit against Windermere Baptist Conference Center and several financial institutions and individuals.
Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Hayden heard arguments Feb. 10 in legal action the Missouri Baptist Convention filed in Camden County on Nov. 1, 2006, in an effort to stop all land transactions at Windermere pending the outcome of a case in Cole County Circuit Court. He plans to issue a ruling at a later date.
As part of the Cole County action, Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan ruled last March that Windermere acted legally when it changed its articles of incorporation to allow a self-electing board of trustees. A three-judge appellate panel upheld Callahan’s ruling on Feb. 3.
On Feb. 10, Windermere attorney Eric Walter argued that the Camden County case should be dismissed “on the strength” of the appeals court opinion.
MBC attorney Gregory Williams claimed that the appeal opinion does not prohibit the convention from pursuing the Camden County legal action to reclaim 1,300 acres the MBC transferred to Windermere when a separate corporation was set up. Prior to 2001, Windermere was governed by an MBC committee.
However, Judge Hayden noted he would not give the appeals court opinion “much authority” because it will not be legally binding until the MBC exhausts all appeal options. The convention can request the Missouri Appeals Court to rehear the case or can ask for the case to be transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court.
Through the Camden County action, the convention seeks to rescind the deed and reclaim all land, including 943 acres Windermere transferred to National City Bank of Cincinnati in late 2005 as part of a debt restructuring plan. The bank sold the property to Windermere Development Company Inc., owned by William R. Jester of Springfield.
Williams asserted that if the “breakaway trustees” had told the convention about their plan to sell the acreage, the MBC would not have agreed to relinquish the deed to the property. He claimed that a request to have a deed rescinded must be filed in the county where the property is located.
Windermere’s attorney argued that the convention had asked for cancellation of the deeds as part of its Cole County case and noted Judge Callahan’s ruling is final unless overruled by a higher court.
The convention’s legal action in Camden County includes Jim Hill, who served as MBC executive director at the time Windermere was incorporated; Windermere attorneys Jim Shoemake and Walter; Jester and companies he formed to develop the purchased property; and several lenders involved in the debt restructuring plan.
In August 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.
The convention’s case against the other four entities has been on hold pending the outcome of the MBC’s appeal in the Windermere case. No dates have yet been set for those hearings.