By Bob Allen
The Missouri Supreme Court declined May 27 to review a lower court ruling ending a 12-year-old legal battle over ownership of a Baptist camp that declared independence from the Missouri Baptist Convention in 2001.
The refusal leaves standing a March 25 decision by the Missouri Court of Appeals denying a jury trial to determine legal ownership of Windermere Baptist Conference Center due to an inadequate brief filed by the Southern Baptist Convention affiliate’s executive board.
A three-judge panel of the appellate court’s Southern District said procedural errors in the convention’s appeal made it impossible for the court to properly review a legal file exceeding 4,200 pages, divided into 34 separate non-word searchable PDF files.
Windermere’s board of trustees released a statement following the action by the Supreme Court.
“The entire Windermere family is pleased that this litigation has come to an end,” trustees said. “We continue to thank God for his blessings on Windermere and its ministry. After more than 12 years and millions of dollars spent on these various pieces of litigation, it is our hope and prayer that all Baptists in Missouri can focus on sharing the gospel in our state rather than attorneys guiding decisions and charting the course.”
John Yeats, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, said in The Pathway he was disappointed but not surprised by the Supreme Court decision. Yeats said his biggest regret is that Missouri Baptists will never hear information designated confidential that can only be disclosed during a public trial.
Missouri Baptists filed lawsuits in 2002 against five former convention agencies that amended founding documents to no longer grant the convention the privilege of nominating and electing trustees, moving to self-perpetuating trustee boards.
The convention later dropped a lawsuit against the Missouri Baptist newspaper Word and Way. Earlier this year attempts to mediate the four remaining disputes broke down, sending the cases back to trial.
Windermere trustees said that while they were pleased with the decision in their favor, “we take no joy in where these cases have brought Baptists in this state.”
“It is our sincere desire to put the past behind us and work together as brothers and sisters to advance God’s Kingdom,” the trustees said.