Circuit Court Senior Judge Frank Conley has ruled that the Missouri Baptist Foundation must pay the Missouri Baptist Convention roughly $5.5 million in legal fees and costs that the MBC has incurred seeking to restore the Foundation after its board voted in 2001 to become self-perpetuating.
The long-anticipated ruling in Cole County 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 funds under its management.
Wilson ordered that the MBC-elected trustees take control of the Foundation promptly. Plus, the judge said the Foundation or its insurance company should pay the convention for attorney’s fees and costs.
The Foundation has fought the 2010 ruling, 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, Judge Conley has 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.”
Judge Conley’s written opinion
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.
In his written opinion, Conley 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. 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.”
Still pending before Conley are MBC claims to recover Missouri Baptist University, in Creve Coeur, 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.