MBC case moves forward following Appeals decision
Next court date scheduled for Dec. 15
By Don Hinkle
November 15, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY – Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown will hear arguments Dec. 15 on whether the Missouri Baptist Convention will be represented by the Executive Board alone, or by six individual messengers and new MBC President Ralph Sawyer.
Brown set that date during a Nov. 10 status conference with attorneys representing the MBC and the five breakaway agencies. MBC lead attorney Michael Whitehead also took time following the conference to comment on inaccuracies reported by Word & Way in October. The conference was the first meeting by the court with counsel since the judge dismissed the MBC petition on March 11, 2004, and since the court of appeals ruled in favor of the Convention and returned the case to Judge Brown.
MBC attorneys filed a “motion to intervene” on Oct. 26 requesting that Judge Brown allow the messengers including Sawyer, pastor, First Baptist Church, Wentzville, to join the MBC Executive Board as plaintiffs in the case originally filed on Aug. 13, 2002. MBC seeks to retrieve five breakaway agencies where trustees amended their charters to elect their own successors. The five agencies, with assets of more than $240 million, are Missouri Baptist College, Word & Way , The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist Foundation and Windermere Conference Center.
“Our (Oct. 26) motion acknowledges that the appeals judge said that individual messengers also have standing, and we simply want to combine the claims of our second case into our original case,” Whitehead said.
The MBC’s original petition named the Executive Board and six churches as plaintiffs, but Brown in a March 2004 ruling said none had standing to sue in behalf of the MBC, that only messengers could do so. MBC attorneys asked to amend the lawsuit to include messengers, but Brown refused any amendment. MBC attorneys complied with Brown’s suggestion and filed a second case in Cole County Circuit Court naming messengers as plaintiffs. MBC attorneys then appealed Brown’s dismissal of the first case to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, in Kansas City.
Circuit Judge Richard Callahan stayed action on MBC’s second case while awaiting the outcome of the appeal of the first case. On May 31 the appeals court ruled, in a 3-0 decision, in favor of the MBC. The appeals court said that messengers could represent the MBC, but that the Executive Board was comprised of messengers, so it had standing to sue for the Convention.
The appeal case was sent back to Judge Brown. The second case before Judge Callahan was dismissed as unnecessary.
Whitehead called inaccurate a headline and an article published by Word & Way on its web site in mid-October. The headline referred to a “new lawsuit,” while the text referred to a “third lawsuit” that had been filed by MBC
“This is not a ‘new lawsuit’ or a ‘third lawsuit,’ Whitehead said. “We are seeking to combine the messenger case with the Executive Board case.” The same Word & Way story appeared in the paper’s Oct. 20 print edition, but with a different headline: “More filings in MBC suit against institutions.”