Mo. court issues limited ruling in breakaway entities case
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)--A limited ruling by a Missouri judge may prompt the Missouri Baptist Convention's legal task force to adjust its strategy against five breakaway MBC entities.
Cole County Circuit Court Judge Tom Brown, in his March 11 ruling, addressed the question of who may assert the convention's rights against the breakaway entities.
The convention's executive board and six individual churches, according to Brown's ruling, do not have legal "standing" to file suit against Missouri Baptist College, one of the five entities at issue.
"The judge has not denied that the convention has rights," said Gary Taylor, chairman of the convention's legal task force. "The judge did not rule on the key issue in the case -- whether these five corporations can violate the plain meaning of their own charters by denying the convention the right to select their trustees.
"The convention has directed that we get a final judicial ruling on that legal issue, and we are determined to honor the convention's mandate, even if that means going to the court of appeals," Taylor said.
The college and four other entities -- the Word & Way newsjournal, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Missouri Baptist Foundation and The Baptist Home -- altered their charters in 2000 and 2001, setting the stage for the institutions to select their own trustees, thus removing themselves from MBC ownership.
The March 11 ruling came as no surprise to the legal task force after the judge unexpectedly declined to hear arguments on scheduled motions to dismiss on Feb. 26.
Convention attorneys and the college are interpreting Brown's ruling differently.
Mike Whitehead, lead attorney for the MBC legal team, said Brown's ruling is on a procedural issue, which may require individual messengers to be named as representatives of the convention rather than the executive board or six named churches in the filing.
"The order granted a motion for summary judgment by the college and stated that the churches named as plaintiffs were not technically 'members' of the convention," Whitehead said. "The judge said that the MBC constitution means that individual messengers are the members."
The college issued a press release after the ruling, describing it as an action that "ends the dispute between the Convention and Missouri Baptist University over the University's ability to appoint trustees in a self-perpetuating manner."
"A shadow has finally been lifted from the University," the press release said.
Taylor, however, said that because the ruling deals only with a procedural issue raised by the college, it does not end the legal process.
"We are disappointed but not deterred," Taylor said. "As we have said before, this is a procedural 'bump in the road,' not a roadblock."
The convention has until April 20 to seek reconsideration of the court's ruling or to file a notice of appeal to the Western District of Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City.
"The judge believes that the Missouri Baptist Convention should be represented in this case by messengers rather than by churches or the executive board," Taylor said. "We have proposed an amended petition which would name individual messengers in the case.
"This may require a mid-course correction in our plan but it does not change our goal. We remain committed to the goal of justice for more than 600,000 Missouri Baptists in more than 2,000 local churches who have given millions of dollars to build these institutions.
"Someone must speak up for their rights. If the courts require individual messengers, we will give the court individual messengers."
Bob Baysinger is managing editor of The Pathway, the newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention, on the Web at www.mbcpathway.com.