Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Latest Round of Legal Wranglings in Missouri

Alice in Wonderland's signature phrase, "curiouser and curiouser," would be an apt description of the latest development in the ongoing Baptist legal battles here in Missouri. Springfield developer William R. Jester has sued the Missouri Baptist Convention for $10 million for lost business and additional punitive damages. An article by Vicki Brown in the Word & Way reports Jester's position as follows:

Jester’s counterclaim charges the convention with making unsubstantiated and negative claims publicly, primarily through the MBC’s news journal The Pathway. Comments “relative to Defendants’ business capabilities, financial capabilities and the status of ownership…are derogatory and were made without any effort to confirm the accuracy…,” the petition notes.

Jester claims the MBC or its representatives warned prospective lenders against financing development of the property. He alleges the convention acted “with evil and malicious intent” and “outrageously when they intentionally interfered with the Defendants’ valid contracts and business expectations.” The MBC also acted “with reckless indifference” to Jester’s rights.

The developer claims the interference has cost him more than $10 million in possible sales or development of the disputed property.

In his counterclaim, Jester is seeking at least $10 million to compensate for those lost profits. He also asks the court to grant punitive damages “in an amount that punishes them.”

“The financial damage they have done to my clients is beyond substantial, and we are looking to the plaintiff individuals and organizations to right that wrong,” Shostak said.

This legal action was taken by Jester this past week and I've been monitoring the MBC's Pathway site to see what if any response the MBC will have to this suit. They are still carrying the earlier story about Judge Callahan's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of Windermere and to dismiss the MBC's suit against Windermere. There is also an interview with MBC attorney Michael Whitehead who expresses confidence that the MBC will win the case in appeals. It remains to be seen if the MBC will go forward with the previously announced decision to appeal Judge Callahan's decision in light of Mr. Jester's actions and the potential of having to pay $10 million if his suit prevails against the Convention. Perhaps some cooler heads among Missouri Baptist pastors can prevail upon the Convention to finally abandon the lawsuits against the 5 agencies which have already cost millions in attorneys fees and allow these Baptist institutions to carry on their vital ministries without further interference. A possible obstacle to that happening could be Whitehead's interest in seeing the suits continue since his firm represents the MBC as legal counsel. Given the fact that Whitehead also serves as parliamentarian for the convention, he could potentially rule as out of order any motion from the floor of the convention to drop the suits. One cannot help but speculate about the potential conflict of interest this represents.

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