CAMDENTON – Pre-trial preparations continue in the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) legal action to recover the real property at the Windermere Baptist Conference Center. Lawyers for Windermere and several codefendants recently asked the trial judge to “continue” the trial date of April 1, and to re-set the trial of the case a few months later in the year. MBC lawyers opposed the delay and told the judge they would be ready for trial on April 1. On Feb. 5, Senior Judge Ralph Jaynes ruled against the defendants and in favor of MBC, upholding the April 1 date.
“The MBC is entitled to its day in court, at long last, regarding Windermere,” said Michael Whitehead, MBC general counsel. “The judge said to be ready on April 1, so we’ll be ready.”
In a separate ruling on Feb. 1, Judge Jaynes granted a motion by defendant James L. Hill, dismissing him from individual liability in the case. The judge said his ruling was based on a release agreement given to Hill by the Convention at the time he resigned in 2001. Hill’s attorneys also argued that he was immunized from such a lawsuit by a five-year statute of limitations on fraud claims. Judge Jaynes said he agreed.
“While we disagree with this legal ruling, we believe that the dismissal of Jim Hill does not significantly change MBC’s legal position at trial,” said John Yeats, executive director. “We believe the judge’s ruling may help to streamline and simplify the trial, and shorten it, and that is always a good thing. Plus, the focus on corporate liability makes clear that our goal is to restore MBC’s property at Windermere to the MBC family. The goal of these civil actions is not punishment of individuals, but restoration of MBC’s ministries, and so we prefer to focus on the corporations who can remedy the wrongdoing by returning MBC’s property.”
Randy Comer, MBC Agency Restoration Group chairman, said that he understood the judge’s ruling to mean that Jim Hill is dismissed as a party, but not as a witness at the trial. He said all the evidence about Jim Hill’s conduct may still be presented at trial. “We have important video tape deposition testimony by Jim Hill and others that will still be presented at trial. The facts and issues will be the same. The legal claim is now focused on a ‘quiet title action’ seeking to recover all of MBC’s real property.”
Several corporate defendants have filed “summary judgment motions” as a final effort to avoid trial. The judge is expected to rule on those motions in March. The trial remains set to begin in Camdenton on April 1.