JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — An interpretation of a lower-court ruling continues to stir a long-running legal tempest among Baptists in Missouri.
The Missouri Baptist Convention has taken steps to regain control of the Missouri Baptist Foundation by declaring that MBC-elected trustees are legally in charge of the Foundation’s ministry.
The move comes in spite of the Foundation’s pending appeal of a ruling in the convention’s favor by Judge Frank Conley in Cole County Circuit Court last June.
The interpretation of that ruling is at issue. MBC attorneys believe the judge intended for control of the Foundation to revert to the convention under the MBF original governing documents.
Foundation lawyers, however, say Judge Conley’s ruling did not negate a stay imposed by Cole County Senior Judge Byron Kinder in 2011. That ruling included a stay of the judgment until all appeals are exhausted.
The Foundation’s appeal is the latest step in a 2002 lawsuit the convention filed in Cole County against five formerly affiliated entities, including the Foundation, Word & Way, the Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University and Windermere Baptist Conference Center, in an attempt to regain control of the institutions after each had changed its governing documents to elect its own trustees.
Judge Conley issued a final judgment against the Foundation on June 6, 2014, in which he ruled the MBF would return to its 1994 charter. The Foundation filed a notice of appeal last October, which the appeals court is still considering.
In an emailed letter to Foundation lead attorney Laurence Tucker dated Jan. 26, Michael Whitehead of the Kansas City-based Whitehead Law Firm alleged he represents the Foundation trustees, “as elected by the Missouri Baptist Convention.” Whitehead alleged Judge Conley’s ruling did not include a stay and that the Foundation’s self-elected trustees “are effectively removed, and are not legally entitled to take any action for or on behalf of” the MBF.
Whitehead also emailed a second letter in which he outlined the convention’s reasoning for convention-elected trustees to replace the current Foundation board and requested that letter be forwarded to the Foundation-elected trustees.
Tucker and the current Foundation board believe Judge Conley’s ruling did not negate a stay Judge Kinder issued in his May 13, 2011, ruling, which declared the stay would be in effect “until after final disposition on the merits by the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court, including the issuance of a final mandate.”
In a Jan. 28 press statement, Tucker noted the Foundation believes Judge Kinder’s stay remains in effect.
“The Convention has acknowledged that the provision was made part of Judge Conley’s ruling in June of 2014. It is puzzling why the Convention now seeks to disavow that fact and claim that despite the court’s ruling in 2011, a new Board of Trustees has been authorized,” Tucker wrote in the emailed statement.
The Foundation motion to enforce the stay asserts that in a court filing on Jan. 20, MBC officials recognized Judge Conley’s 2014 ruling included Judge Kinder’s order.
In addition to sending letters to Foundation attorneys and trustees, Whitehead also contacted Commonfund, the Foundation’s investment partner, and the MBF’s insurance carrier, Church Mutual Insurance Co.
The Foundation motion notes that, according to its news journal The Pathway, the convention also notified Hawthorn Bank, a financial institution the MBF uses for funding operations.