The Missouri Baptist Convention plans to ask a judge to reconsider and modify his ruling dismissing a lawsuit against five convention agencies before filing an appeal, the convention’s attorney said Tuesday.
Attorney Michael Whitehead told EthicsDaily.com in an e-mail that the convention has until April 20 to file a notice of appeal of Circuit Judge Thomas Brown’s March 11 ruling that six churches representing the convention lacked standing to sue, because the MBC constitution defines members as messengers and not churches.
Before filing an appeal, Whitehead said he expects to file a motion to reconsider, asking the judge to modify his ruling. Whitehead said he has already filed an amended petition naming the six pastors of the churches previously named as plaintiffs and identifying them as messengers to the convention.
“If the judge denies our motion to reconsider and motion to amend, then we will proceed to appeal, and may also file a new petition naming other messengers,” Whitehead said. “The discovery and other work done under the first case number will simply carry forward to the new case number, and so the case will proceed.”
Whitehead’s assessment of Judge Brown’s ruling, described by a Missouri Baptist legal task force as a procedural “bump in the road,” is different from that of attorneys on the other side.
“It is not a bump in the road. It is a dead end,” Clyde Farris, an attorney representing Missouri Baptist University in the case told the Missouri newspaper Word & Way March 15. “They have to start over on a different road if they want to continue this litigation.”
That view is shared by another lawyer representing a number of Missouri Baptists in a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the lawsuit filed nearly two years ago claiming that five MBC agencies acted improperly in changing their charters to allow trustees to elect their own successors.
“Missouri Baptists need to understand this little ‘bump in the road’ derailed the MBC Law Suit train,” attorney Bart Tichenor said Monday, adding that he believes nuances of Baptist polity raise significant challenges for convention lawyers. Since messengers are authorized only to vote on behalf of their church during the two or three days a year when the convention meets, Tichenor contends that once the convention adjourns, there is no continuing membership with legal standing to sue.
The convention’s legal task force, however, said the judge did not rule on the central issue in the case–whether the convention has a right to elect the agencies’ trustees that was abridged by the agencies changing their charters–and pledged to continue the legal battle to resolve that question.
A hearing on the amended petition to name messengers as plaintiffs is scheduled at 11 a.m. Friday, according to Word & Way. “Our position is that since the judge has ruled that the plaintiffs have no standing, then they have no standing to amend,” Farris told the newspaper.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.