Missouri Baptist Foundation may face hefty debt in long-standing court battle

Attorneys’ fees, courts costs and interest could total more than $5 million.

By Vicki Brown

If a lower court decision stands, the Missouri Baptist Foundation faces a debt to the Missouri Baptist Convention that could reach more than $5 million.

On June 6, Judge Frank Conley issued a final judgment in a lawsuit filed in 2002 by the convention against the MBF to overturn changes it made in its governing documents to elect its own trustees.

Under the order, the MBF would be required to pay attorneys’ fees and court costs of nearly $3,684,326 that accrued from Aug. 13, 2002 — when the MBC filed legal action — through Dec. 31, 2010. The total the Foundation would owe rises because it also would be required to pay 9 percent interest per year, beginning at Dec. 31, 2010, until the debt is paid.

Calmer ChrisJudge Conley set additional fees and costs of almost $356,664 to cover the period from Jan. 1, 2011, to Nov. 22, 2013. Interest of 9 percent per year, beginning with the November date, would be added.

The June 6 ruling was the most recent legal step in a wider lawsuit, which the convention also filed against The Baptist Home, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, the newsjournal Word&Way and Missouri Baptist University, all of which moved to elect their own governing boards. Earlier the boards had been elected by the convention.

Conley’s judgment was on a ruling by former Cole County Circuit Court Judge Paul Wilson on Dec. 31, 2010, and later amended by Cole County Senior Judge Byron Kinder. In 2013 Judge Kinder recused himself from the case, and the Missouri Supreme Court appointed Judge Conley, then serving with the Boone County Circuit Court.

The Foundation appealed Judge Wilson’s decision to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District. That court returned the case to Cole County after ruling that the lower court failed to resolve all the issues in the case. Consequently, the appeals court had no jurisdiction in the case. Until the circuit court made a final judgment, an appeal could not be made.

The appeals court dismissed the case without ruling whether the MBC had standing, or the legal right, to file the lawsuit originally, and without considering any of the circuit court decisions. Contractual and other claims, including fees and costs, had not been dealt with by the lower court.

Because Judge Conley issued his ruling as a final judgment in the Foundation portion of the 2002 case, the MBF now can appeal. According to Foundation attorney Larry Tucker, the circuit court judgment will be final 30 days after the ruling. A notice of appeal must be filed within 10 additional days.

“Obviously, we are disappointed in the decision, but we recognize this is a complicated case,” noted MBF President Chris Calmer. “The Foundation and our lawyers are analyzing the judge’s rulings, and will be making decisions about what the Foundation’s next actions will be....

“We recognize there are differences of opinion related to our governance, but these truths still remain: Our goal is to advance the gospel and to further the cause of Christ. We will make every effort to assure Missouri Baptists that those core values remain the same.”

Windermere won its portion of the 2002 lawsuit, and the MBC voluntarily dropped the case against Word & Way.

The convention lost its final bid to reclaim control of Windermere when the Missouri Supreme Court refused on May 27 to examine a Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, ruling in a second lawsuit the MBC had filed against the conference center.

The 2002 legal action is still pending against the Home and the university.