JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Missouri Baptist Convention leaders say they will continue to appeal to the state Supreme Court in their effort to “win back Windermere” after the court of appeals announced on March 31 that it was declining to reconsider its Feb. 3 ruling against the convention.
The Feb. 3 decision by a three-judge appeals panel declared that the convention cannot legally prevent the breakaway of Windermere Baptist Conference Center because of the contents of a charter filed by the former executive director in 2000. Windermere was one of five Missouri Baptist Convention subsidiary corporations which broke from the MBC in 2000-01 by changing their charters to create self-perpetuating trustee boards.
“Court rules required asking the court of appeals to rehear or transfer the case, although they almost never do,” said Michael Whitehead, MBC lead legal counsel. “Now the court rules permit us to apply directly to the state Supreme Court for review. We expect to file that application on or about April 14. The vote of four judges can grant our appeal.”
Windermere President/CEO Dan Bench applauded the court’s March 31 order.
“We are pleased that the court has upheld Windermere’s victory,” Bench said in a statement. “We are not surprised, however, because we knew the three appellate judges and the circuit court judge had offered well-documented rulings on the merits of the case.”
Meanwhile, the MBC will continue to pursue recovery of the Windermere real estate in a separate case which is pending in Camden County circuit court. The next hearing in that case is set for April 14.
“The court of appeals decision said MBC cannot get the Windermere corporation back. It did not say we cannot get the Windermere real estate back,” said Randy Comer, chairman of the Agency Restoration Group, and pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Chillicothe, Mo. “We remain focused on winning back the Windermere property, all 1,300 acres, and the court appeals ruling, even if it stands, did not make that less likely.”
Said Whitehead, “In 2005, MBC filed a second petition in Camden County, to ‘quiet title’ to the land. Our goal there is to rescind the 2001 deed that was given by the Executive Board to the Windermere corporation, and thus to get MBC’s land back. This would include the 943 acres that has since been sold to Mr. [William] Jester’s companies.”
In 2006, Jester’s companies purchased 943 acres of Windermere land from one of the lenders. Jester has filed a counterclaim against the MBC for “at least $10 million in damages, plus punitive damages.” The April 14 hearing in Camden County will address MBC’s motion to dismiss Mr. Jester’s counterclaim against the convention.
Reported by The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.