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Court rules against Mo. breakaway

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–The Missouri Baptist Convention has won a key legal victory in its effort to recover the Missouri Baptist Foundation, one of five breakaway convention entities.

Cole County Judge Paul Wilson granted summary judgment to the convention on Dec. 31, holding that attempts by the foundation to change its charter in 2001 without convention approval were void.

In a 37-page decision, Wilson ordered the foundation — and its $140 million in assets — to be returned to the control of convention-approved trustees in 30 days.

“Even in complex cases, there is sometimes a simple truth that cannot be ignored,” Wilson wrote. The judge, in his ruling, stated that “[i]n October of 2001, the Foundation deliberately, repeatedly, and surreptitiously ignored the Convention’s right [to approve charter changes] solely for the purpose of … eliminating it.”

The convention’s rights were “plainly and unequivocally provided” by the 1994 charter, and the foundation’s trustees “knowingly and purposefully violated the provisions of the 1994 charter by attempting to … cut off MBC’s rights….”

As a result of these actions, the court ordered the foundation to pay the convention’s attorneys fees and costs in addition to prohibiting “golden parachute” payments to departing foundation staff. Even more strikingly, the trial judge refused to issue a stay of the transfer of control pending the expected appeal.

Wilson’s order came as his term ended on Dec. 31. He was appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon in January 2010 to fill the unexpired term of Richard Callahan, who was appointed to be U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. In November, Wilson ran for election to the post as a Democrat and lost to Republican challenger Daniel Green, who assumed his office on Jan. 1. Wilson has not announced his future plans.

While Wilson ordered the foundation’s leaders to return control to the convention in 30 days, the foundation may seek a stay during an appeal. A Jan. 3 statement by the foundation indicates an appeal is likely. In the foundation’s view, “[T]his ruling is just a first step in a longer process by which the matters addressed in the judge’s ruling will be reviewed by the Missouri judicial system.”

MBC attorney Michael Whitehead said that despite the foundation’s statement, he believes the order breaks a “legal log jam.”

“Judge Wilson’s ruling provides a clear path for resolving the MBC lawsuits,” Whitehead said.

The order does not fully resolve the convention’s claims against two other breakaway entities, Missouri Baptist University and The Baptist Home retirement center, but Wilson wrote that his findings should be applied to them. MBC attorneys believe similarities between the foundation, university and Baptist Home charters could provide for faster resolution of the remaining claims.

“We intend to file summary judgment motions before Judge Green,” Whitehead said, “so that all of the remaining cases can be resolved at the trial court level as quickly as possible.”

Convention court action also continues against the Windermere Baptist Conference Center petition to recover 1,300 acres of its property on the Lake of the Ozarks. Court action has been dropped to recover the fifth breakaway entity, the Word & Way newsjournal.
Reported by the staff of The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

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