Messengers resist effort to drop almost nine-year litigation battle - Word&Way

Messengers resist effort to drop almost nine-year litigation battle

SPRINGFIELD – A move to end a nearly nine-year-long legal battle against agencies formerly affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention met strong resistance at the MBC's 176th annual meeting.

Messengers defeated a move by Michael Haynes, Greene County Baptist Association director, to immediately end all legal action against agencies and individuals.

The measure, as a proposed amendment to the Agency Restoration Group's report, failed by a 199-753 vote.

The convention filed legal action in Cole County against Windermere Baptist Conference Center, The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University and Word&Way on Aug. 13, 2002, in an effort to rescind charter changes each had made in their charters to allow each to elect its own trustees without MBC approval.

The MBC also filed a lawsuit in Camden County against Windermere in 2006.

In 2008, Cole County Judge Richard Callahan ruled Windermere had acted legally – a ruling the Western District appeals court upheld in 2009. The MBC voluntarily dropped legal action against Word&Way earlier this year.

Haynes argued that the convention had spent $5.22 million from the filing of the original lawsuit in Cole County through September this year. He also pointed out that the MBC budget had dropped from $19.2 million in 2001 to $15.1 million for 2010.

Executive Board member and MBC Second Vice President Mitch Jackson (left) speaks during the Agency Restoration Group report to messengers while ARG Chair Randy Comer (right) and other messengers listen.

ARG chair Randy Comer quickly pointed out the MBC has received $1 million in insurance reimbursement when Haynes said only $333,000 had been reimbursed.

The convention's organizational study this year focuses on creating a "compelling vision," Haynes added. "I am convinced we will not unify around a compelling vision until the lawsuit is ended."

Steve Mosely of Maplewood Baptist Church asked convention messengers, "Are we going to trust God or trust lawyers?"

In the ARG report, Comer argued that unilateral dismissal of legal action would expose the MBC to millions of dollars in legal costs because of counterclaims by the five agencies and a pending lawsuit by the late William R. Jester.

Jester, who passed away earlier this year, purchased 943 acres Windermere had transferred to National City Bank of the Midwest in late 2005 as part of a debt-restructuring plan.

Jester's firm, Windermere Development Co., has filed for bankruptcy and, according to the report, a mortgage company has foreclosed on the property.

Comer noted Cole County Judge Paul Wilson still has not ruled on arguments submitted in June and July in the case against the Foundation.

MBC lead attorney Michael Whitehead added the convention would seek a jury trial against former MBC Executive Director Jim Hill, charging that Hill and Windermere had acquired the conference center land through fraud.

"You rightly put the lawsuits in the hands of the Executive Board. They have your best interest at heart," MBC Second Vice President Mitch Jackson declared.

Messengers cannot be apprised of everything board members know because of attorney/client privilege, he said. "The Executive Board has the whole story…. You need to trust them. If you knew what they know, you wouldn't be discussing this today."