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MBC files appeal of Windermere ruling

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–The lead attorney for the Missouri Baptist Convention wants a hearing by the end of the year of an appeal to overturn a trial judge’s ruling in favor of a conference center that broke its ties to the convention.

The breakaway entity, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, has received an extension to Sept. 5 to respond to an appeal filed by the Missouri convention to overturn a circuit court judge’s summary judgment for Windermere.

The Missouri convention’s appeal argues that multiple errors were made by Circuit Court Judge Richard G. Callahan and that justice requires a reversal of the Cole County judge’s March 4 ruling.

MBC attorneys made the arguments in a brief filed in the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western Division, in Kansas City on July 22. The brief was filed several weeks earlier than is required by court rules, MBC lead counsel Michael Whitehead said, voicing his hope that a hearing might be scheduled before the end of the year.

Among the legal errors argued in the brief:

— The judge misinterpreted a statute in Missouri law (355.066) which in fact makes the state convention the “member” with final authority over the Windermere corporation by virtue of the right to elect trustees.

— The judge was wrong about the law regarding the rights of the state convention as a “third party beneficiary” to the corporate charter, which is a contract under Missouri law.

— The judge was in error on three points of law on the rights of the convention to deeds and mortgages and restitution of Windermere real estate.

The opening paragraph of the MBC brief states: “Beginning in 1957, Missouri Baptists, using their offering-plate contributions, bought and paid for a campground on the shores of the Lake of the Ozarks. This campground, which consisted of 1,300 acres of lakefront property, was titled in the name of the Executive Board of the Missouri Baptist Convention. When the Executive Board was reorganized in 2000, the Missouri Baptist Convention placed the campground in a subsidiary corporation, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, under the control of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Three months after the campground was transferred to the subsidiary, the subsidiary’s board declared its independence from the Missouri Baptist Convention, denying all of the Convention’s right of control but keeping the campground for itself. The Trial Court affirmed the subsidiary’s action, finding that the Missouri Baptist Convention has no recourse for the loss of its campground. Missouri Baptists, through the named Plaintiffs, appeal that decision.”

Windermere’s brief in response to the MBC appeal was to be due on Aug. 21 according to court rules, but the conference center already had filed a motion for an extension to Sept. 5, Whitehead said. Then the MBC will have 15 days to file a brief responding to Windermere’s arguments. At that point, a three-judge panel will be assigned and an oral argument date will be scheduled. Whitehead said there is a chance that an argument could be scheduled yet this year unless Windermere’s attorneys seek further delays.

Windermere was one of five former MBC subsidiary corporations which broke from the MBC in 2000-01 by changing their charters to create self-perpetuating boards. The organizations then aligned themselves with a new breakaway state convention, the Baptist General Convention of Missouri headed by Jim Hill, who was the Missouri Baptist Convention’s executive director at the time of all five breakaway attempts.

The other entites are the Baptist Home retirement center, the Word & Way newsjournal, the Baptist Foundation and Missouri Baptist College.

Callahan, in his summary judgment against the Missouri convention on March 4, said the Windermere board’s breakaway might be “ungrateful” but was not illegal.

Meanwhile, a hearing was to be held in Camden County on Aug. 19 regarding several procedural motions raised by Windermere and other defendants in response to a case filed by the MBC-elected board of trustees of the Windermere corporation. The MBC trustees’ case names as defendants several banks and development companies that claim some interest in the Windermere land. The purpose of the separate suit is to protect the land from re-development during the appeal of the Cole County case. The Camden County zoning commission has not approved a rezoning required for the development plans and construction has not been started on nearly 1,000 acres formerly owned by Windermere and which are now titled in the name of businesses owned by William Jester.
Reported by The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

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