A June 7 hearing before Circuit Judge Jay York will determine the future of a lawsuit against Mobile Ballet filed by a group of current and former board members. York will rule on a volley of amended actions and motions, which have flown since the original action was filed in late January.
Plaintiffs alleged malfeasance, breach of fiduciary duty and other charges by Mobile Ballet director Karen Kennedy and a collection of board members in a 52-page document. The attached 25 pages of evidence drew a line to former artistic director Winthrop Corey’s sudden departure in November 2016.
A Feb. 18 letter from board president Dr. Sandra Parker called the lawsuit “false and reckless” and “harmful to the organization.”
“The original complaint was filed allegedly for the benefit of Mobile Ballet. They have now changed that to actually sue Mobile Ballet along with 10 of the directors and so clearly the lawsuit is clearly not for the benefit of the Mobile Ballet. If they contend that it is, then these plaintiffs have no standing to bring that lawsuit,” Caine O’Rear III said. O’Rear and Windy Bitzer are defense counsel for the board.
Monty Thull, Beverly Davis and Rhea Mostellar were plaintiffs in the original action. According to defense counsel, Thull and Mostellar are no longer on the Mobile Ballet board.
Judge York previously feared a potential conflict of interest from a prior relationship with a named party. The conflict — a case of mistaken identity — was resolved but plaintiff’s attorney Ray Thompson needed to amend the suit in late April.
“[Thompson] agreed with our motion to dismiss for the most part and so that’s why he filed that amended complaint. What we’ve done now is move to dismiss that amended complaint,” attorney Warren Butler said. Kennedy retained individual representation in Butler and Alex Terry Wood.
“[Kennedy] remains very positive of the things going on with Mobile Ballet but she has not appreciated the negative statements made by Mr. Thompson against her when she has had total support from the supermajority of the board members and has decisions based on their approval,” Butler said.
Dismissal motions from both the board and Kennedy characterize the initial lawsuit as containing “flamboyant histrionics and disparagement.” They cite not only the lack of standing for plaintiffs to file this action but defendants’ immunity through Alabama’s Volunteer Service Act and the lack of any actions beyond the power of Mobile Ballet as grounds.
“So what we have now is really actions that have been taken by the Mobile Ballet that were approved by a substantial majority of the board at the time — 12 members of a 16-member board approved these actions and business decisions,” O’Rear said.
In kind, Thompson filed a June 1 response to defense’s dismissal motion. He claimed their references to a statute of limitations and the plaintiffs’ standing on the board should be adjusted to the case’s particular timeframe.
Defense attorneys proffered other motivations for the initial legal action.
“I think one other point here is we believe the allegations are motivated by an effort to enhance a newly created ballet school in competition with the Mobile Ballet. It’s headed by plaintiff’s counsel’s wife — Classical Ballet of Mobile,” O’Rear said.
Thompson’s wife, Pamela, is a former director of the Mobile Ballet School and is named as such in the original lawsuit.
Artifice found a website for Classical Ballet of Mobile on June 2. It was incomplete but under its “about” heading was a summary describing the school’s start as the result of interested parents who approached Pamela Thompson for ballet instruction. Little other information was available other than its location in Mobile and a map showing where attire can be purchased.
As of Sunday, June 4, the website had changed. While its logo is there, the remainder of its content has been removed except the page describing the school’s formation, which no longer bears Pamela Thompson’s name.
Artifice acquired a State of Alabama Nonprofit Corporation certificate filed June 1, 2017, in Mobile County Probate for Classical Ballet of Mobile Inc. The form said it was prepared by attorney Edward Hawkins, that its registered agent is Doug Bridges and its incorporator Connie Catranis. The corporation’s address is listed as 744 Museum Drive in Mobile.
Ray Thompson admitted his wife left Mobile Ballet about the same time Corey did. He also said his wife has been approached about teaching at the new school.
“As I appreciate it, there are 40 or 50 families who have left Mobile Ballet and are involved in the new work. In January, these families came to my wife and wanted her to teach ballet. There was no entity then. I don’t represent Classical Ballet of Mobile at all,” Thompson said.
As to imminent proceeding, both sides stand firm.
“We look forward to arguing our motion to dismiss with Judge York next week,” Butler said.
“Get ready, I think it’s going to be interesting. There may be some fireworks at this hearing,” Thompson said.
MOTION FOR DISMISSAL