MBC asks court to hold Windermere in contempt
Jefferson City – Attorneys for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) have filed a motion June 16 asking the court to hold Windermere Baptist Conference Center in contempt of court because of continued logging operations in violation of the court’s June 1 injunction.
This most recent action taken by the MBC is part of its on-going legal effort to retrieve five of its agencies with assets of more than $250 million. The five agencies – Windermere, The Baptist Home, Word & Way, Missouri Baptist Foundation and Missouri Baptist College – now have self-perpetuating trustee boards after trustees, disgruntled with the conservative direction of the MBC, voted to amend all five agency charters so they could name their successors. The MBC charges the trustees’ action violated Missouri law since they did not get permission from the MBC to amend their charters.
Cole County Judge Tom Brown, III, entered a preliminary injunction on June 1, commanding Windermere to stop “selling, cutting, removing, assigning or encumbering the timber located on any real estate owned by Defendant Windermere, or under any timber harvesting contract owned by Defendant Windermere. Defendant Windermere shall not sell or assign its rights in any timber contract with Midwest Forest Management, or third-party loggers, and shall give notice to each party to such contract to stop cutting trees pursuant to such contract until further order of this court.”
According to the motion filed by Michael Whitehead, MBC legal counsel, tree cutting and removal has continued on land owned – or formerly owned – by Windermere.
“The injunction order prohibits removing trees already cut and prohibits cutting down more trees,” said Whitehead. “It applies to land owned by Windermere or formerly owned by Windermere. It appears that Windermere is flagrantly violating this injunction.”
Whitehead said witnesses have seen trees being cut and removed on several days between June 2 and June 15. MBC counsel will ask the court to declare Windermere in contempt of court and to enforce its order to stop the logging violations.
In other developments, Brown granted a motion on June 12 by Missouri Baptist College to dismiss a count in the MBC’s third amended petition, regarding that the college conspired with the other four agencies to unlawfully amend their charters. Brown’s order referred only to the college because only the college had filed such a motion. The MBC promptly asked the judge to reconsider his ruling at a hearing that was set for June 27.
“It is wrong to breach a contract, but the law says it is a separate wrong to ‘conspire’ with others to breach a contract,” explained Whitehead. “The petition need not contain all our facts and proof, but only the allegations of the elements of conspiracy.
“An agreement between two or more people to unlawfully change a charter to cut off MBC rights is a ‘conspiracy.’ The facts that five agencies changed their charters in the same manner, in the same one-year time frame, and even using the same law firm in three of five cases – support the claim that this was not a coincidence, but a common scheme. In other words, a conspiracy to take away the convention rights to elect trustees.”
Brown also gave MBC attorneys 20 days to amend the petition to provide a more definite statement about the “contract” claims. MBC lawyers say they have agreed to append to the third amended petition, copies of the MBC governing documents (constitution, bylaws, etc.,) which are alleged to be the basis of the breach of contract claim. MBC attorneys had argued that the documents were adequately described in the body of the petition, which satisfies court rules of pleading, but they said they would be glad to append the documents to the petition, if the court preferred.
“Defendants continue to raise nit-picking procedural motions which add small delays, but they will not keep the judge from reaching the heart of the case soon,” predicted Whitehead.
The deposition of William Jester, which had been set for June 22, was cancelled at the last minute when Jester hired new attorneys, who asked the court for a delay. Jester, a Springfield businessman, and his associate, Jerry Hill, had hired the firm of Blackwell Sanders Peper and Martin several months ago, and Blackwell Attorney Virginia Fry had represented Jerry Hill at his deposition last month. Jester had refused to appear for his deposition last month due to alleged health reasons, which were never publicly identified. When MBC lawyers appealed to the court to compel Jester to appear, Fry agreed to produce Jester on June 22. However, on June 19, MBC lawyers were notified by Burton Shostak, a prominent criminal defense lawyer from St. Louis, that he had just been hired and would now be representing Jester, Jerry Hill, and Jester’s business, Windermere Development Company, LLC. Shostak’s motion to delay the deposition is set for hearing on June 27, along with the other motions.
“Changing lawyers at the last minute should not entitle Mr. Jester to further delay his deposition,” said Whitehead. “We will ask the court to order a date certain, and hold him to it. Finally, Mr. Jester will have to answer questions about his role in these breakaways, which goes way back before The Baptist Home charter change in 2000.”