MBC case assigned to Callahan
Circuit judge may need several weeks to prepare for new responsibility
JEFFERSON CITY – Circuit Judge Richard G. Callahan has been appointed to take over the case involving the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and five breakaway agencies, following the departure of Judge Thomas Brown, II, who was defeated in a November 2006 election.
Jon Beetem, newly elected circuit judge who defeated Brown last fall, was initially assigned to take over Brown’s civil docket, including the MBC case. On Jan. 16, however, attorneys for Missouri Baptist University exercised their option to request a change of judge. Each side has the right to one automatic change of judge if the request is made within 30 days of the assignment of the new judge. On Jan. 18, the case was reassigned from Judge Beetem to Judge Patricia Joyce, who is the new presiding judge. The next day, Jan. 19, attorneys for the Convention exercised their option to request a change of judge, and the case was then assigned to Judge Callahan.
Callahan ran for circuit judge as a Democrat in 2002 and was elected to a 6-year term. He previously was Cole County prosecutor from 1987 to 2002, and was assistant prosecutor since 1979. Born in 1947 in St. Louis, Callahan was educated at Georgetown University, both undergraduate and law school.
It may be several weeks before Judge Callahan can give attention to the newly assigned MBC case. Callahan began a trial on Jan. 3 involving Missouri school finance laws which is expected to last up to six weeks. MBC attorneys say they expect Judge Callahan to set a status conference soon to discuss with all attorneys how to expedite the remaining steps leading up to trial.
Michael Whitehead, lead attorney for MBC, said about a dozen motions have been filed by both sides in the past two months, raising key legal arguments that can accelerate a final decision in the case. These motions are still being briefed on both sides, but soon will be ripe for hearing and ready for decision.
Meanwhile for the past two months attorneys have been engaged in completing several depositions of key witnesses. College attorneys have deposed Pat Taylor, president of Southwest Baptist University, and Carl Huser, a retired biology professor, trying to show that accreditation has been jeopardized because of Convention pressure on agencies to teach things “which all educated people know is false,” i.e., creationism. Taylor testified that SBU recently completed a 10-year re-accreditation process successfully.
The pending motions include a new argument by Baptist Home lawyers. The claim that the Convention’s right to elect their trustees originated in a 1960 Articles of Incorporation which was filed with the Secretary of State on Jan. 5, 1960. The trustee meeting to adopt these articles occurred in 1959, but the Home says now they realize that the trustee meeting should have happened after Jan. 5, 1960. Therefore, the Home argues, the 1960 Articles were void from the beginning, and the Convention’s right to elect trustees was also void.
“The Home’s argument is silly and self-serving,” Whitehead said. “The Home filed a valid document with the Secretary of State in 1960, and a lawful certificate of acceptance was issued. The courts will apply the doctrine of ‘estoppel’ to such efforts of the Home to avoid its liability under these documents. The court should say that the Home is about 40 years too late on raising this ‘mistake’ and trying to use it against the Convention, after 40 years of giving and 40 years of electing Home trustees.”