JEFFERSON CITY — Word&Way has been dismissed from Missouri Baptist Convention litigation that has stretched over nearly eight years. However, it will continue to be excluded from MBC Executive Board meetings.
The convention, through its attorneys, filed a document in Cole County Circuit Court on April 23 voluntarily releasing the news journal from all claims against it.
The MBC filed legal action against five formerly affiliated institutions on Aug. 13, 2002, in an effort to force them to rescind changes in their charters.
Word&Way, The Baptist Home, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Windermere Baptist Conference Center and Missouri Baptist University each changed their corporate documents to self-elect trustees — the Home in 2000 and the others in 2001.
“We’re pleased with the dismissal and confident that it will put an end to litigation for Word&Way,” the news journal’s lead attorney Jim Shoemake said by phone April 23.
The MBC dismissed its legal action “without prejudice,” meaning that it would have the option to re-file the case.
Windermere was the first of the five agencies to be released from the Cole County case. Judge Richard Callahan ruled in Windermere’s favor on March 4, 2009, centering on two main aspects of the convention’s contention in the center’s case — corporate membership and a contractual relationship. The judge ruled the MBC is not a member of Windermere’s corporation and that no contract exists between the two.
Until August 2000, the MBC governed Windermere and Word&Way through its Executive Board. Messengers to the 1999 MBC annual meeting approved a reorganization plan that included incorporation of the center and the news journal as separate entities. Drawn up in 2000, the charters for both the conference center and the news journal noted the new corporations would have no members.
In addition, Judge Callahan had ruled that together Windermere’s articles of incorporation and the MBC’s governing documents — its constitution and bylaws, its business and financial plan, and the Executive Board’s articles of incorporation and bylaws — do not create a contract between the two entities.
The MBC lost its appeal of the Windermere case and the state’s Supreme Court refused to review it.
“The trustees and staff of Word&Way are elated to finally have this lawsuit behind us,” Word&Way editor Bill Webb noted. “We lament that the Missouri Baptist Convention took so long to take this action.
“The legal system confirmed way back on May 5, 2009, that the convention did not have a viable case against us. That is when the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear the MBC's appeal of the case involving Windermere — a mirror of the convention's case and arguments against Word&Way.
“Sadly, both our organization and the MBC have incurred unnecessary legal fees because convention attorneys waited nearly a year to drop the lawsuit against us,” Webb added.
In an April 26 Baptist Press story, MBC lead attorney Michael Whitehead acknowledged that, like Windermere’s, the Word&Way charter does not give the convention the right to approve charter amendments. Likely, the legal outcome would be similar, he said.
In his statement, he also acknowledged that The Pathway, established in 2002, is considered the MBC’s news journal. The value of Word&Way’s assets — a mailing list and some computers from 2001 — are not sufficient to outweigh the cost of continued litigation.
Meeting ban continues
Although the case has been dismissed, Word&Way will still be excluded from all future MBC committee and Executive Board meetings.
In 2003, litigation was cited as the reason for a presidential directive banning Word&Way from all Executive Board and committee meetings. In a Nov. 19 letter that year, then-board president, now executive director, David Tolliver issued the directive, but apparently no official board action was taken.
At their April 13 session, board members officially voted to exclude Word&Way or its agents from attending meetings. The news journal has continued to send a writer, who remains outside the meeting room, since the 2003 ban.
In an April 16 letter to Word&Way, Tolliver indicated the newest action applies indefinitely. He gave no reason for the continued exclusion.
A status hearing in the case against the remaining three entities is set for 2:30 p.m. April 27 at the Cole County Courthouse. Attorneys on both sides will argue over the order in which pending motions should be heard.
Lawyers will argue those motions at a hearing set for 10 a.m. on May 11.