Montgomery County Circuit Judge Greg Griffin should reverse a recent decision to appoint a special master and certified public accountant in the Mabel Amos Trust Fund lawsuit, according to a filing by the Alabama Attorney General's Office on Tuesday.
Griffin appointed a special master last week to investigate alleged self-dealing and corruption surrounding the Mabel Amos Trust Fund.
Griffin appointed retired Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Charles Price as special master. He also appointed James White, Sr., a certified public accountant from Birmingham, to examine the trust fund's accounts and records.
Allen Dodd, an appointed Deputy Alabama Attorney General, has said that the state, the fund's board members and the trust fund's trustee Region Banks were close to reaching a settlement.
The fund's board members are John Bell, Rick Clifton and Alabama Ethics Commission executive director Tom Albritton.
Dodd said in a filing on Tuesday, "There is no need for a master (and CPA) in this case. The case presents no peculiar or unique complexities, nor do unsubstantiated claims by the litigants without standing justify referral to a master."
"This case involves claims that a trust was improperly managed. There are no complex issues involved. The Trust (or Fund) itself is simple. The Fund, a charitable trust, merely makes awards of college scholarships to Alabama students who meet four criteria plainly enumerated in the Trust. The gravamen of the claims in this litigation is that the Board Members of the Mabel Amos Fund made improper awards of scholarships to next of kin. No fact or claim warrants appointment of or referral to masters. Indeed, the Court makes no finding of exceptional circumstances warranting referral to a master," he added.
Byron Mathews, an attorney representing Tyra Lindsey, a 10th-grade student at Hillcrest High School in Evergreen, and her mother, Denese Rankin, asked the court on November 2 to appoint a special master independent of the Attorney General's Office due to Marshall receiving campaign contributions from Regions Bank and Maynard Nexsen, the law firm representing Regions in the case. Dodd has denied the Attorney General's Office has a conflict of interest.
Griffin, Dodd and attorneys for the fund's board members and Regions Bank met privately during a court hearing on November 2 to discuss the terms of a proposed settlement before Griffin ultimately decided in favor of appointing a special master last week.
Griffin said during the November 2 hearing he was inclined to appoint a special master and investigate what was going on with the trust fund's finances.
"I know the Attorney General. I know Steve Marshall. I think he's an honorable man. That's why he appointed (Dodd) someone who wouldn't have any appearance of impropriety. But if I were to appoint an independent special master that they're talking about, that would be even better. If I got somebody completely out of the picture and I have the authority to do that, that would really make it good," Griffin said during the hearing.
Price served on the Alabama Ethics Commission from September 2015 to August 2020. Albritton was hired as executive director in February 2015.
Amos was Alabama Secretary of State from 1967 to 1975. She died in 1999. Her trust was established to give scholarships to financially needy students in Alabama. The fund's estimated net worth is $8.2 million.
"To conclude, not only did the Court make no finding of an 'exceptional condition', it is difficult to imagine a case less-suited for a special master at this juncture. The trustee, Regions, the statutory guardian, the Attorney General, and the Board members have reached a settlement. The Court's Order will cause the Trust to incur costs and will delay or prevent altogether the Fund from recovering the funds to be paid to the Fund under the terms of the settlement. It would be the odd result indeed if the Court appointed not one but two special masters to 'review' or advise on rulings and factual matters in a case that has been settled," Dodd said.
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