Windermere escapes contempt
Jefferson City – Windermere Baptist Conference Center escaped a contempt citation on July 14 when the trial judge overruled a motion for contempt filed by Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) attorneys against the breakaway corporate board.
MBC attorneys filed a motion on 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. The court heard evidence at hearings on June 27 and again on July 6. After deliberating for over a week, the court entered a docket entry order, denying the motion without explanation.
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.”
Michael Whitehead, MBC legal counsel, presented evidence to the court that tree cutting and removal has continued to occur on land formerly owned by Windermere. One witness testified that he saw loggers with chain saws on June 15, cutting up trees that had been previously cut down. The witness said the trees were on land now titled in the name of a private company owned by William Jester, Springfield, Mo., businessman. The witness did not see the trees cut down, but Whitehead argued that it should not matter.
“The injunction order prohibits removing trees already cut,” said Whitehead. “It applies to land owned by Windermere or formerly owned by Windermere. By its terms, the injunction applies to trees owned by Windermere, even if they are on land now titled in the name of Mr. Jester’s companies.
“The court seemed to have some question about whether the legal title to the trees had passed from Windermere to Mr. Jester, when he took the deed to the 941 acres in February 2006.”
Whitehead said the judge had indicated at the June 27 hearing that he was inclined to hold Windermere in contempt if they stood by while loggers removed Windermere’s trees, even if the land now was titled in Jester’s company.
“The judge made it clear on June 27 that Windermere was close to a contempt citation. He was clearly not pleased by the continued logging operations, but he decided not to impose contempt penalties, apparently because of questions about who really had “title” to the trees on and after June 1.”
Whitehead noted that logging is not occurring on the 300+ acres retained by the Windermere board, which they call the “core real estate,” where conference facilities are located.
In other developments, Judge Brown denied MBC’s motion to reconsider a June 12 order dismissing the “conspiracy to breach contract” count in the Convention’s Third Amended Petition. The court did not find that there was no conspiracy by various persons, only that the corporations could not be held liable for the conspiracy.
“We disagree with Judge Brown’s view of the law of conspiracy in Missouri, but his latest order does not affect the heart of MBC’s case, which is the breach of contract itself,” explained Whitehead.
Meanwhile, MBC attorneys filed an amended petition on July 11, and Missouri Baptist College attorneys promptly filed a pleading in opposition to the amendment. The college asked for a hearing on the matter to be held on Aug. 7, but MBC attorneys asked the court to move up the date to July 26, and to hear it by conference call.
Once the court approves the amended petition, defendants are expected to re-file motions to dismiss, making various legal arguments about whether the convention, as a association, has the power to enter a contract, and if so, whether the convention breached the contract when a nominating committee failed to recommend certain persons requested by agency heads. Convention lawyers expect those motions to be filed in August and for hearings to be held in August or September.
“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.