Special master appointed in Amos Trust lawsuit

Published 11:00 am Sunday, November 19, 2023

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A special master has been appointed by a Montgomery County Circuit Judge to investigate the handling of scholarships awarded through the Mabel Amos Trust Fund.

A lawsuit filed in 2022 against Regions Financial Corp. alleges mismanagement of the charitable trust fun, stating that board trustees charged “outrageous” fees and benefitted personally by “using the funds in the trust to educate their children at out-of-state expensive colleges and were not in financial need, while members of Amos’ immediate family were in financial need.”  The lawsuit also claims that Regions began charging the “outrageous” fees when oil was discovered on Amos’ property as compared to fees charged when only natural gas was there. Regions has said its fee is “consistent with our standard rates and competitive with industry rates.”

The lawsuit seeks to remove Regions as the trustee bank and require it to pay back all distributions to trustee children as well as paying compensatory and punitive damages.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Greg Griffin last week appointed Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Charles Price as the special master and James White Sr., a certified public accountant from Birmingham, will review the trust’s financial records.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Byron Matthews, asked the court earlier this month to appoint a special master independent of the AG’s office, citing that Attorney General Steve Marshall has received campaign contributions from Regions Bank as well as Maynard Nexsen, the law firm representing the bank.

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office has requested Judge Griffin reverse his decision to appoint the special master and accountant, with representatives stating the AG’s Office, Regions and the Amos board members are close to settling the case while also denying any conflict of interest.

Marshall said in a filing in April that Regions and the board members “engaged in acts of self-dealing, or breached their fiduciary and other duties to the trust by failing to prevent or prohibit self-dealing, or by permitting and acquiescing in self-dealing, and engaging in other acts and omissions in violation of statutory and common law duties owed to the Trust.”

The trust fund is managed by three board members, former Regions Financial Corp. Chief Trust Officer John Bell (now retired), Rick Clifton, and Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton. Clifton and Albritton became board members of the trust when Albritton’s law firm created the charitable trust for Amos. It also established a third board member to be filled by a representative of Union Bank. That seat was filled by Bell when Union was bought by Regions. 

The suit was brought by Megan Carmack and Leigh Gulley Manning on behalf of their children. The plaintiffs are family members of Amos, who served as Alabama Secretary of State from 1967 to 1975. Amos died in 1999 and her trust was established to provide scholarships to deserving and financially-needy students in Alabama. The fund’s estimated net worth is $8.2 million.