Transfer of Second Baptist case under consideration

The exterior of Second Baptist Church in Starkville (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)
Staff Writer

The Second Baptist Church board of trustees has requested a lawsuit filed against it by the church be moved to Oktibbeha County Circuit Court.

Chancery Judge Kenneth Burns of the 14th Chancery Court District will decide whether he will keep the case or transfer it to Oktibbeha Circuit Court, where the other lawsuit concerning Second Baptist Church is being heard.

The hearing took place Tuesday at the Chancery Courtroom of the Lowndes County Courthouse in Columbus. During the hearing, Burns listened to Second Baptist Church attorney Matt Baldridge and board of trustees attorney James Helveston argue the case.

The motion to transfer the case was proposed by the board of trustees.

"It is our position that all these issues have been litigated and decided in Circuit Court," Helveston said. "Judge (Jim) Kitchens has determined that the trustees do have the authority to that litigation."
Members of Second Baptist Church wish to pursue the lawsuit in Chancery Court as an independent case, separate from the lawsuit the board of trustees filed against TCM Companies, LLC, and Donald Crowther.

"We believe that the claims were properly brought before the chancellor and we're hoping that that is where they remain so that the church can be heard, because so far they have not been allowed to speak as a church body," Baldridge said.

In the Circuit Court case, Kitchens determined the board of trustees had the authority to pursue the lawsuit. Helveston told the SDN Kitchens' decision was taken to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which backed Kitchens' decision.

The case brought up in Chancery Court is asking for Burns to give an interpretation of church bylaws and asking for an accounting of how church money is being spent.

Baldridge told the SDN he argued the case is no different than a shareholder derivative suit, where church members are considered shareholders and have a right to decide where the funds of the church are spent.

Following a confession of criminal conduct from Crowther, the church body voted to stop pursuing litigation in Circuit Court.

A decision from Burns is expected in the coming days, but no set timetable has been provided as of press time on Wednesday.