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Breakaway Mo. entities seek rehearing in appeals court

KANSAS CITY (BP)–Five breakaway Baptist entities that lost a unanimous appeals court decision have filed a motion seeking a rehearing by a state appeals court in Kansas City or a transfer to the Missouri Supreme Court for a new hearing. A three-judge panel ruled May 31 in favor of the Missouri Baptist Convention and had remanded the case to Cole County Circuit Court to proceed to trial.

The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University, Windermere conference center and Word & Way newsjournal complained in their motion that the three-judge panel overlooked or “misinterpreted material matters of fact and law.”

Michael Whitehead, lead attorney for the MBC, told The Pathway, the official newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention, “We fully expected the entities would attempt this tactic, which fits with their tactics of procedural delay in order to avoid the substantive merits of the case. We will wait to see if the court of appeals wants to re-hear this case, or if they want to see this case get to trial as soon as possible, so a declaratory judgment can be rendered.”

The core issue in the three-year-old dispute involves trustee actions at the breakaway entities to amend their charters without Missouri Baptist Convention approval, allowing them to become self-perpetuating and take control of more than $240 million in assets.

The defendants’ motion for a rehearing lists seven legal “errors” allegedly made in the appellate opinion authored by Judge Robert Ulrich and joined by Judge Harold Lowenstein and Chief Judge Edwin Smith. Six of the alleged mistakes relate to the holding that the Missouri convention’s executive board can represent the MBC between annual meetings. In the seventh point, the defendants disagree with the holding that the convention has “perpetual existence” and has legal rights year-round and not just during the annual meetings. The appeals court rejected the entities’ arguments regarding a 1935 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court, Farm and Home Savings and Loan v. Armstrong, which the appeals courts treated as outdated and irrelevant.

“The five entities thought the Farm and Home case was their ‘silver bullet’ but the court of appeals said they were shooting blanks,” Whitehead commented. “The breakaway trustees who put their faith in the Farm and Home case for their legal justification should be feeling pretty insecure after this appellate opinion.”

The court of appeals may rule summarily on the motion or may invite the convention attorneys to file a reply brief. Most motions for rehearing are routinely denied in a few days, according to the MBC legal team. If that happens in this case, the MBC executive board case will return to the Cole County circuit court and will likely be consolidated with a similar filing and then proceed with pre-trial discovery and motions in preparation for trial.

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