JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan has decided that the Missouri Baptist Convention legal action against five breakaway entities should proceed where it started, in the court of a fellow Cole County circuit judge, Thomas Brown III.
After an Oct. 11 hearing in which MBC attorneys asked Callahan to consolidate two similar convention-initiated cases, Callahan instead dismissed the case in his division so that the petition before Brown could proceed.
“The only effect of this ruling is that we will proceed before Judge Brown,” said Michael Whitehead, MBC lead attorney, who appeared at the hearing along with co-counsel Stan Masters of Kansas City and Charles Hatfield of Jefferson City. “Callahan’s order was titled ‘judgment of dismissal’ but that should not mislead anyone. It is simply the form he used to put the case back in Division I.”
The Missouri Baptist Convention’s initial petition for a declaratory judgment, filed in August 2002, asked the court to declare illegal certain actions by the five entities from 2000 and 2001 in which trustees amended their charters to make self-perpetuating boards not elected by the Missouri convention. The five entities, The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist Foundation, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Missouri Baptist College and Word & Way, have assets estimated at more than $240 million. The second petition was filed last year.
“All our legal claims will now be combined in the petition before Judge Brown, in which the court of appeals gave us our victory,” James F. Freeman III, MBC co-counsel, said of the convention’s May 31 appeals court victory against dismissal motions. “The [MBC] executive board is named as plaintiff in Division I. Five messengers were named as plaintiffs in Division II. We expect to add the individual messengers and their claims in the Division I case.”
“We have asked Judge Brown to set a scheduling conference as soon as possible,” Whitehead said. “We need to schedule hearings on some motions that were pending when the case went up on appeal. They are already briefed and before the court, so we just need to set the argument date. It is time to move full-speed ahead.”
Once those legal motions are resolved, the court may schedule the time for remaining discovery and set a trial date. MBC attorneys say they are hopeful that the case may be ready for trial in early 2006.