Attorneys present arguments before Court of Appeals
By Don Hinkle
April 19, 2005
KANSAS CITY – Attorneys representing the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and the five renegade agencies where trustees voted to become self-perpetuating presented oral arguments April 20 before a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, here.
The judges had read prepared briefs from all parties involved prior to the hearing. The appeal focuses on Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown III’s March 11, 2004, ruling in which he dismissed the MBC’s case because it named six churches – instead of messengers – as plaintiffs. The six churches are Springhill Baptist Church, Springfield; First Baptist Church, Arnold; First Baptist Church, Branson; First Baptist Church, Bethany; Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City; and Oakwood Baptist Church, Kansas City. When Brown refused to let the MBC amend its petition with messengers, the MBC filed its appeal in April 2004.
Meanwhile, MBC attorneys have filed a new petition, naming messengers as plaintiffs, in Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City. Attorneys for the five agencies have filed six procedural motions in response, but the motions have been taken under advisement pending the oral argument in the court of appeals regarding the church case.
At press time attorneys for both sides were preparing to present oral arguments before the appellate court. Under normal rules, each side gets 15 minutes to answer questions from the three judge panel. The appellant MBC is allowed an additional five-minute rebuttal, since it has the burden of proof. Lawyers for the five agencies have asked for an extension of the time limits, to allow 35 minutes for MBC and 30 minutes collectively for the respondents. The appeals court views oral arguments as an opportunity to answer the judges’ clarifying questions after they have studied the briefs. The hearing is not intended to rehash the entire briefs.
Attorneys hope for a decision within 90 to 180 days from the oral argument date. Rulings are released on Tuesday mornings. Appeals to the Missouri Supreme Court must be filed within 15 days after the opinion has been issued.
Judge Edwin H. Smith, a native of St. Joseph, is the presiding judge in the appellate case. Joining him are Judges Harold L. Lowenstein and Robert G. Ulrich. Following are brief biographical sketches of the three:
• Smith, 53, is a graduate of the University of Missouri. He practiced law until elected associate circuit judge of Andrew County in 1978. He was elected a circuit court judge in 1988 and was appointed to the Missouri Court of Appeals in 1995.
• Lowenstein, 66, is a native of Marshall and received his law degree from the University of Missouri. He is a former assistant attorney general who was elected to the House of Representatives from 1972-1980. He was appointed to the court in 1981 and retained in 1982 and 1994.
• Ulrich is a native of St. Louis. He has degrees from William Jewell College, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Virginia. He is also a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. He was a U.S. Attorney, Western District of Missouri, from 1981 until he was appointed to the court of appeals in 1989.