Commission to hire attorney for litigation

Published 10:08 am Thursday, March 14, 2013

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal

The Lowndes County Commission is looking to hire an attorney to handle a lawsuit between itself, Karl Bell and the South Central Alabama Broadband Commission.

After about 30 minutes in executive session Monday to discuss “litigation strategy,” at the request of County Attorney Hank Sanders, the Lowndes County Commission voted unanimously to allow Commissioner Carnell McAlpine to negotiate with attorney Christmas Green in Selma to “take over some legal matters for the county.”

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County Commissioner W. Dickson Farrior confirmed that a lawsuit was filed in Lowndes County Circuit Court against Karl Bell and the SCABC and that the action taken by the commission Monday was to hire an attorney to handle that case.

County Attorney Hank Sanders said he could not comment on the action taken Monday, but said, “I’m still the county attorney.”

The lawsuit filed Feb. 25 in Lowndes County Circuit Court is between the plaintiff Lowndes County Commission and defendants Karl Bell and Hayneville Plaza LLC and the South Central Alabama Broadband Cooperative District.

Among relief sought, the Lawsuit against Bell and the SCABC seeks compensatory damages for breach of contract, $500,000 to be placed in escrow and cost of litigation be paid by the defendants.

Previously on Feb. 6, a lawsuit was also filed by the commission against the South Central Broadband Cooperative.

It asks that rent money collected by the SCABC is property of the Lowndes County Commission, the SCABC be stopped from expending other funds, the SCABC make a full accounting of money collected and spent and the balance of money be paid to the county commission.

By way of background, the Lowndes County Commission voted unanimously on Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 to send a letter requesting the Bells make good a returned check for $500,000 or face legal action.

The checked referred to was dated July 12, 2011 on a Hayneville Plaza LLC, First Citizens Bank account, made to the Lowndes County Commission for $500,000, marked “loan to pay bond,” and signed by Karl Bell. It was returned stamped “insufficient.”

At the time, Karl Bell was owner of the Hayneville Plaza, which was purchased by the county for use by the SCABC in connection with the broadband project for eight central Alabama counties.

“I would like to motion that on the returned check on Bell, the situation, that we get the attorney [Sanders] to draft a letter to be submitted to them giving them 14 days to reply. If not take legal action,” Commissioner Brenson Crenshaw said at that time.

Karl and Helenor Bell threatened a countersuit of their own regarding a returned check for $500,000 to the Lowndes County Commission in connection with the purchase of the Hayneville Plaza.

In December of 2012, the Bells responded.

“My clients are tired of playing games over something that is trying to be made political by certain members of the Lowndes County Commission,” attorney Michael G. Strickland wrote in a letter to Commission Chairman Robert Harris, received by The Lowndes Signal, and dated Dec. 3.

Strickland stated in the letter that he represents Karl and Helenor Bell and Hayneville Plaza LLC in this matter.

“This will be our final notice and request for the Lowndes County Commission to return the check written by Hayneville Plaza LLC to my office within ten (10) days of the date of this letter along with the requested minutes, print a public apology and retraction in The Lowndes Signal and cease and desist from all other actions arising out of the check and failed loan,” Strickland wrote.

“If this matter is not resolved in ten (10) days per my request, I have been instructed to file suit to resolve this matter and clear my clients’ names,” Strickland continued.

Also, in October of 2012, Farrior moved that the county “take immediate possession” of the Hayneville Plaza, including the keys to the building, as well as to request the SCABC to return any rent collected and an accounting of the rent collected to be placed into an escrow account “until further developments.”