Breakaway foundation faces $5.5M judgment
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP) –- The Missouri Baptist Foundation, one of five breakaway Missouri convention entities in 2001, has been ordered to pay roughly $5.5 million in legal fees and costs incurred by the convention to restore the foundation to Missouri Baptists.
The ruling by Cole County Circuit Court Senior Judge Frank Conley affirms a 2010 judgment in which Judge Paul Wilson, who now sits on the Missouri Supreme Court, ruled that the convention has the right to recover the foundation and the $140 million in funds that were under its management.
Judge Conley also ordered that convention-elected trustees take control of the foundation promptly.
The foundation, whose trustees voted to become self-perpetuating in 2001, has fought the 2010 ruling by Wilson, seeking summary judgment in 2012, making a motion to set aside the ruling in 2013, and again seeking summary judgment in 2014. Judge Conley overruled all of these legal maneuvers.
While the foundation may appeal the ruling, Conley ordered that interest accrue on the amount owed the MBC at a rate equaling just under $30,000 per month.
The MBC and the foundation attempted mediation late in 2013 and early in 2014 but reached an impasse over the issue of governance. The matter of historic Baptist trusteeship is non-negotiable with Missouri Baptists, as is the right of the convention to approve all charter changes. With the foundation case, the court has concurred multiple times with the convention on these key issues.
"Missouri Baptists have patiently and persistently asked us to seek the restoration of the foundation," said John Yeats, MBC's executive director. "Judge Conley's ruling brings further clarity to the issue and, we believe, brings the foundation one step closer to returning to the MBC family."
Yeats continued, "As we have always said, we gladly welcome back the foundation if it seats the duly elected trustees and returns to its corporate charter in which Missouri Baptists, not independent boards, govern its ministry. With God's grace, we are much closer today to reconciliation."
When Judge Wilson moved to the state Supreme Court, Senior Judge Byron Kinder inherited the case but retired. The Office of State Court Administration then appointed Boone County Senior Judge Conley of Columbia to finish the case.
Conley, in his written opinion, commented on the foundation's continual motions and efforts to reopen the case. "The fortuity of a change in trial judge is not a reason to reopen a judgment which two prior judges intended to be final," he wrote.
"Over three years after Judge Wilson sought to restore the foundation to the Convention, 'further proceedings' are over," Conley wrote. "The time for re-litigating old motions or filling new motions has passed. The Court is committed to finality in its judgment so that the parties may get finality in the resolution of this decade-old dispute."
Wilson, in his 37-page decision in 2010, wrote: "Even in complex cases, there is sometimes a simple truth that cannot be ignored" -- that "[i]n October of 2001, the Foundation deliberately, repeatedly, and surreptitiously ignored the Convention's right [to approve charter changes]."
The convention's rights were "plainly and unequivocally provided" by the foundation's 1994 charter, and the foundation's trustees "knowingly and purposefully violated the provisions of the 1994 charter by attempting to ... cut off MBC's rights...."
Still pending before Conley are MBC claims to recover Missouri Baptist University, in Clayton, and The Baptist Home, a multi-campus ministry to senior adults. MBC attorneys say they expect Judge Conley to apply the same legal reasoning to the remaining ministries because they have corporate charters that are similar to the Foundation's.
Meanwhile, convention court action ended last week against the Windermere Baptist Conference Center, another breakaway entity which took with it 1,300 acres of its property on the Lake of the Ozarks. The Missouri Supreme Court denied the convention's request for appeal on its bid for a jury trial in that case. The convention dropped its court action to recover the fifth breakaway entity, the Word & Way newsjournal.
Reported by the staff of The Pathway (www.mbcpathway.com), newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.