CAMDENTON — The Missouri Baptist Convention could face paying more than $15 million to a Springfield developer over land formerly owned by Windermere Baptist Conference Center.
William R. Jester of Springfield has filed an amended counterclaim to legal action the MBC Executive Board, Robert Collins as an MBC representative and convention-elected trustees filed in Camden County on Nov. 1, 2006.
Camden County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Hayden allowed Jester to amend the counterclaim originally filed in 2008, after a hearing on July 15 to clarify the judge’s April 9 dismissal of the convention’s lawsuit.
As part of a 2006 debt restructuring plan to cover the conference center’s Wilderness Creek expansion, Windermere transferred 943 of its 1,300 acres to National City Bank of the Midwest in November 2005. The bank sold the property to Jester-owned Windermere Development Company Inc. in January 2006. The land was titled to the company in February that year.
In its Camden County lawsuit, the convention sought 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.
The MBC also requested an injunction to prohibit Jester from financing and beginning construction on the property.
The Windermere portion of the Cole County legal action has been dismissed in Cole County and by the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals. The Missouri Supreme Court refused to consider the case on May 5.
In his April 9 order, Judge Hayden dismissed the Camden County legal action against Jester and his companies, employee Jerry Hill and all financial institutions.
The MBC filed a motion to dismiss Jester’s counterclaim, and attorney Greg Williams argued at a hearing on July 15 that the judge’s April order had “implicitly dismissed” it. The judge disagreed. “It was not my intent to kill the counterclaim,” he said, and gave Jester’s attorneys 30 days to amend it.
Jester’s counterclaim charges the convention with malicious prosecution, interfering with business and negligence.
It charges the MBC of “engaging in a campaign of false, defamatory and otherwise improper communications with third parties” orally, through correspondence, by electronic mail and through the MBC’s news journal The Pathway, which caused companies and individuals to decline to do business with Jester’s firms.
The developer claims the interference has cost him more than $15 million in possible sales or development of the disputed property. He seeks at least $15 million to compensate for those lost profits.
He also asks the court to grant punitive damages “in an amount determined appropriate to punish Counter Defendants for their conduct and dissuade others from engaging in similar conduct in the future….”
“This case…has been going on through two courts for more than five years,” Jester attorney Burton Shostak of St. Louis noted by telephone Aug. 21. “Plaintiffs have not won…have not gotten any relief…and have had the case denied by the Court of Appeals once and dismissed in Camden County again.
“I don’t think they can continue without there being some recompense to Mr. Jester, and I intend to do everything I can to see that Mr. Jester gets the necessary recompense coming to him.”
In addition to the Executive Board and Collins, Jester’s counterclaim names convention-elected trustees Larry Atkins, Don Buford, James How, Don Laramore, James Robinson and Charles Schrum.