SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The Missouri Court of Appeals has denied a bid by the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) requesting a jury trial to determine the legal ownership of one of its breakaway entities, the Windermere Baptist Conference Center.
Windermere is among five MBC entities – including The Baptist Home, Word&Way newspaper, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Missouri Baptist University – that changed their governing documents to allow each to elect its own trustees in 2000 and 2001. The convention filed a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court against the five on Aug. 13, 2002, in an attempt to regain control of them.
Judges for the court’s Southern District in Springfield, Mo., March 25 upheld a 2013 decision from the Circuit Court of Camden County, preventing a planned jury trial in April of last year, the MBC newsjournal, The Pathway, reported.
The MBC appealed the decision to the Missouri Court of Appeals, which sided with the trial judge on procedural grounds.
A three-judge panel said procedural errors in the MBC’s appeal made it impossible for the court to properly review a legal file exceeding 4,200 pages.
Because of that, the judges ruled, statements of fact presented by Windermere are legally unchallenged, and the state convention “has failed to persuade us as to the validity of its position.”
The MBC has 15 days to seek additional review or transfer of the case to the Missouri Supreme Court. If the convention’s executive board decides it has exhausted all legal remedies, it effectively ends the MBC’s decade-long effort to reclaim the 1,300-acre wooded conference center on the edge of the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri.
“We respect the court’s authority but are greatly disappointed by its decision,” John Yeats, MBC executive director, told The Pathway.
“The judges’ decision to dispose of the case for procedural reasons leaves unresolved the core factual issues we feel a jury is better suited to decide.”
Yeats said his greatest disappointment is that Missouri Baptists may never hear the full story. Many details of the case are sealed and could only be disclosed in a public trial.