Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall requested the Supreme Court of Alabama on Friday stop a court-appointed special master and CPA from investigating alleged self-dealing among trustees overseeing a scholarship fund for needy children created by former Alabama Secretary of State Mabel Amos.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge Greg Griffin appointed a special master in November 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, said in a hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court in November that the state, the fund's board members, and the trust fund's trustee Regions Bank were close to reaching a settlement after a "vigorous adversarial investigation" by the state. The fund's board members are John Bell, Rick Clifton and Alabama Ethics Commission executive director Tom Albritton. Price served on the Alabama Ethics Commission from September 2015 to August 2020. Albritton was hired as executive director in February 2015.
Dodd requested on Friday an order from the Supreme Court of Alabama staying litigation in the case, enjoining and staying special master Charles Price and certified public accountant James White from undertaking any action, proceeding, ruling, accounting, review or other activity pursuant to Griffin's order pending the outcome of the Attorney General's petition to vacate Griffin's order also filed with the Supreme Court.
Dodd said, "An appellate ruling on this Emergency Motion to Stay Litigation is requested by Monday, December 18, 2023, to prevent the Mabel Amos Fund from incurring unlimited fees and expenses."
"The trial court has a set a hearing on Tuesday, December 19, 2023, to consider all pending motions in the litigation captioned above, including motions to further amend the trial court's Order appointing a Special Master and Certified Public Accountant in this case despite the Attorney General's Petitions for Writs of Mandamus vacating the trial court's Order. The trial court's Order is unnecessary, unjustified, and will lead to enormous waste of the Fund's assets," he wrote in the filing on Friday. "At the December 19, 2023 hearing, the trial court will consider motions requesting that the trial court grant even further powers –unprecedented in scope in Alabama law – to the Special Master and Certified Public Accountant; again, despite the Attorney General's pending Petitions. Even worse, the motions for the trial court to grant further powers to the master and accountant were filed by parties who have no standing to bring claims in the litigation. The trial court has not even ruled on motions to dismiss those parties for lack of standing although the motions have been pending for one year in one case, and for almost nine months in the second case."
Dodd said in the filing on Friday the settlement between the parties is contingent on the litigation being dismissed. The Mabel Amos Trust Fund is currently worth about $8.2 million, mostly due to oil and gas wells being on its property in South Alabama. The fund's purpose is "to fund or to provide scholarships for deserving young men and women of this State [Alabama]…to assist them in attending any educational institution." Amos' will defined "deserving" as based on the character, intelligence, scholastic record, and financial need of the student.
Another hearing is scheduled in Montgomery County Circuit Court in the lawsuit on Tuesday.
"The Attorney General's filed Petitions seek the vacation of the trial court's Order. The Order is unjustified and unwarranted. The Order requires the Mabel Amos Fund – an absolutely and undisputedly innocent litigant - to (1) pay the costs and fees incurred by the special master and accountant; (2) grants the master and accountant almost unlimited and unjustified powers of review and investigation; (3) does not set forth the fees to be charged by either the master or the accountant; and, (4) does not limit the total amounts that can be charged to the Trust," Dodd said in the filing. "That hearing, as noted, will address motions demanding even greater powers for the master and accountant, including the power to engage in witch hunts regarding the parties with actual standing in the case. This hearing must be stayed so that the trial court does not enter even more draconian, unjustified, unnecessary, unwarranted Orders that are contrary to Alabama law."
Byron Mathews, an attorney representing Tyra Lindsey, a 10th-grade student at Hillcrest High School in Evergreen, and her mother, Denese Rankin, requested Griffin appoint a special master in November. Lindsey hopes to apply for a scholarship from the fund to attend college after high school.
"The extent of these improper scholarship awards is unknown. From its beginning in 2002 until 2014, the Trust disclosed the names of the scholarship recipients, but in 2014 the Trustees began disclosing only the colleges and universities that the recipients would attend. Also unknown is how much did Regions' fees exceed usual and customary amounts," Byron Mathews said in a filing in the Supreme Court of Alabama on Friday responding to Dodd's request. "The Trustees additionally diverted funds to an investment account that should have been awarded as scholarships, disbursed money to the Crimson Tide Foundation to support the University of Alabama's athletic program (which entitled them to priority tickets to athletic games) and made other disbursements to entities instead of needy Alabama school children. The extent of financial harm to the Trust resulting from these actions will be difficult to determine and calculate."
He continued, "In order to make the Trust whole, a deep dive must be made into the Trust's operations and finances. The court below decided that this required the appointment of a Special Master, assisted by a CPA."
"The AG made a surprise announcement at this hearing (in November) that he had reached a 'near settlement' with the Trustees but the details needed to be worked out. The terms of this "near settlement" had not been submitted in a filing with the court or provided to counsel for all parties. AG's counsel would not disclose in open court or to counsel for Lindsey or Carmack, instead, he requested the judge hear the terms (privately). Over the objection of counsel for Lindsey and Carmack, the judge, and counsel for the AG, Regions, Albritton, and Clifton, retired to the judge's chambers where the terms of a settlement, not yet finalized, was disclosed to the judge," Mathews said in the filing. "After hearing the AG's and Trustees' description of this "near settlement" the judge was clearly not satisfied by the relief provided by such a settlement, should it eventually be finalized."
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