JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Attorneys for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) filed a motion June 16 asking the court to hold Windermere Baptist Conference Center in contempt of court because of continued logging operations in violation of the court’s June 1 injunction.
This most recent action taken by the MBC is part of its ongoing legal effort to retrieve five of its agencies with assets of more than $250 million. The five agencies -– Windermere, The Baptist Home, Word & Way, Missouri Baptist Foundation and Missouri Baptist College -– now have self-perpetuating trustee boards after trustees, disgruntled with the conservative direction of the MBC, voted to amend all five agency charters so they could name their successors. The MBC charges the trustees’ action violated Missouri law since they did not get permission from the MBC to amend their charters.
Cole County Judge Tom Brown III, entered a preliminary injunction on June 1, commanding Windermere to stop “selling, cutting, removing, assigning or encumbering the timber located on any real estate owned by Defendant Windermere, or under any timber harvesting contract owned by Defendant Windermere.” The injunction further said that Windermere “shall not sell or assign its rights in any timber contract with Midwest Forest Management, or third-party loggers.”
According to the motion filed by Michael Whitehead, MBC legal counsel, tree cutting and removal has continued on land owned -– or formerly owned –- by Windermere.
“The injunction order prohibits removing trees already cut and prohibits cutting down more trees,” Whitehead said, contending, “It applies to land owned by Windermere or formerly owned by Windermere. It appears that Windermere is flagrantly violating this injunction.”
Whitehead said witnesses have seen trees being cut and removed on several days between June 2 and June 15. MBC counsel will ask the court to declare Windermere in contempt of court and to enforce its order to stop the logging violations.
In other developments, Brown granted a motion on June 12 by Missouri Baptist College to dismiss a count in the MBC’s third amended petition, regarding that the college conspired with the other four agencies unlawfully to amend their charters. Brown’s order referred only to the college because only the college had filed such a motion. The MBC asked the judge to reconsider his ruling at a hearing that was held June 27.
“It is wrong to breach a contract, but the law says it is a separate wrong to ‘conspire’ with others to breach a contract,” Whitehead said. “The petition need not contain all our facts and proof, but only the allegations of the elements of conspiracy.
“An agreement between two or more people to unlawfully change a charter to cut off MBC rights is a ‘conspiracy,'” he said. “The facts that five agencies changed their charters in the same manner, in the same one-year time frame, and even using the same law firm in three of five cases, support the claim that this was not a coincidence, but a common scheme. In other words, a conspiracy to take away the convention rights to elect trustees.”
Brown also gave MBC attorneys 20 days to amend the petition to provide a more definite statement about the “contract” claims. MBC lawyers say they have agreed to append to the third amended petition, copies of the MBC governing documents (constitution, bylaws, etc.,) which are alleged to be the basis of the breach of contract claim. MBC attorneys had argued that the documents were adequately described in the body of the petition, which satisfies court rules of pleading, but they said they would be glad to append the documents to the petition, if the court preferred.