KANSAS CITY — The ongoing Baptist struggle over 1,300 acres at Lake of the Ozarks has moved to federal court.
On June 23, the Missouri Baptist Convention filed a motion to send its legal action in Camden County against Windermere Baptist Conference Center to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. A federal judge will decide whether the case will remain in federal jurisdiction or be returned to Camden County.
The MBC is seeking the return of the property, which includes 943 acres Windermere transferred to National City Bank of the Midwest in late 2005 as part of a debt-restructuring plan. The bank sold the property to Windermere Development Co. Inc., owned by the late William R. Jester of Springfield.
Camden County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Hayden dismissed the case against the conference center, its attorneys, several financial institutions and Jester in April last year. At that time, the judge determined the issues in the Camden County case mirror legal action the MBC took in Cole County against Windermere, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University, Word&Way and The Baptist Home in 2002.
The convention filed the Cole County case against the five in an effort to rescind changes in each entity’s articles of incorporation that allow each to elect its own trustees. In 2008, Cole County Judge Richard Callahan ruled Windermere had acted legally — a ruling the Western District appeals court upheld in 2009.
In the Camden County lawsuit, the MBC acknowledged the Cole County ruling but claimed it still has a right to the land, charging that Windermere and former MBC executive director Jim Hill had acquired the title through fraud. The convention appealed the case on June 30, 2009.
The appellate court returned the case to Camden County on April 30, noting Judge Hayden had failed to indicate whether his ruling was final and that former MBC executive director Jim Hill and his firm, RDI Inc., had not been included in the dismissal.
The development company’s land currently is under bankruptcy protection. Windermere Development filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 14 to halt a foreclosure sale in Camden County.
Jester, who passed away June 2, had filed a $15-million counterclaim against the convention, charging malicious prosecution, interfering with business, negligence, and false and misleading communications, which kept other companies from doing business with him.