A Baptist conference center in Missouri filed a $10 million lawsuit against the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) on Friday, Oct. 25. The suit comes after an EthicsDaily.com exposé about a settlement in a similar case and the MBC’s efforts to keep the settlement quiet.
Trustees for Windermere Baptist Conference Center (WBCC), a 55-year-old Baptist campground and conference facility on the Lake of the Ozarks, filed the lawsuit after more than 12 years of being sued and attacked by the MBC.

The lawsuit, which follows years of MBC losses in its legal battle against Windermere, asks for $10 million in actual damages as well as punitive damages.

The MBC first sued Windermere and four other Missouri Baptist ministry organizations in 2002. That case ended with a Windermere victory in 2009.

The MBC filed a similar lawsuit against Windermere in 2006 in a different county. The MBC is currently appealing its loss in that case.

Windermere’s lawsuit accuses the MBC of torturous interference, injurious falsehood, slander of title and breach of warranty.

In addition to the MBC, the lawsuit also names as defendants the MBC’s attorney Michael Whitehead (who is sued for his non-lawyer roles as MBC parliamentarian and spokesperson) and Don Hinkle (the editor of the MBC’s publication The Pathway).

Much of the lawsuit focuses on “false or otherwise improper or unlawful statements” published in The Pathway.

The lawsuit also accuses MBC leaders of making “statements [that] were designed to discourage, frustrate, or destroy contracts and business expectancies between WBCC and third parties.”

Arguing that “[t]here was no legitimate justification for Defendants’ Improper Communications,” the suit alleges the conduct “was willful, intentional and outrageous, evidencing evil motive or reckless indifference to the rights of others and warranting punitive damages.”

Windermere’s lawsuit also focuses on the MBC blocking the conference center from taking steps to improve water quality for Windermere and other residents at the Lake of the Ozarks.

A public statement from the trustees on Friday also highlighted this problem.

“Improving water quality at the lake has been an important priority of county, state and federal governmental bodies as well as for those who call the lake area home,” the statement said. “Windermere’s proposed improvements to their facility has [sic] the potential to be a part of the solution not only for the ministry for years to come but also for some 200 other users at no additional cost to Windermere.”

“Federal and state regulatory changes make it imperative that these improvements are made at this time,” the statement continued. “This would be accomplished without any expenditure of Windermere funds, no debt and no long-term financial obligation by Windermere. It is truly a win-win for all of the parties.”

“Unfortunately for all involved in this case as well as the residents living in the Lake of the Ozarks,” Windermere added, “agreement with the Convention has yet to be reached on this critical issues [sic] requiring the need for immediate action by the Windermere board in order to address the Federal and State concerns.”

The legal move by Windermere’s trustees comes just months after EthicsDaily.com broke the news of the MBC’s settlement of a similar lawsuit against it.

In July, EthicsDaily.com reported that the estate of the late businessman William Jester reached a $500,000 settlement with the MBC late last fall. The report noted that MBC leaders kept news of the settlement quiet from Missouri Baptists.

Jester, who died in June 2010, filed a counterclaim against the MBC in 2008 after the MBC sued him and several of his businesses in 2006 (along with Windermere). Jester’s suit accused the MBC of working to block his construction plans on land he purchased from Windermere.

Although MBC leaders responded in The Pathway by falsely attacking the EthicsDaily.com report, they admitted the settlement occurred and that they failed to report it to Missouri Baptists.

In July, the trustees of Windermere issued an open letter to Missouri Baptists and cited the first EthicsDaily.com report.

As they urged MBC leaders to end all litigation, the Windermere trustees warned they would file a lawsuit against the MBC to uphold their “legal and fiduciary duties to take action to protect the organization from these continued expenses and injuries.”

On Friday, the trustees took that step by filing a lawsuit just three days before the start of the MBC’s annual meeting in Kansas City.

Although MBC leaders did not mention the developments in the Jester case during last year’s meeting, it remains to be seen if they will be forthright about the Windermere lawsuit as they update messengers Tuesday morning about their various legal battles.

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com and an editorial assistant for Churchnet.

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