When lawsuits against individual board members and the development director of Mobile Ballet were dismissed by Mobile County Circuit Judge Jay York in an order signed Sept. 6, matters didn’t end there. A separate claim for injunctive relief against Mobile Ballet Inc. was allowed to stand, and a status conference on possible mediation is in the works for early October.
The individuals named in the now-dismissed suits were Becky Tate, Sandra Parker, Jim Parker, Jill Reingold, Liz Kirby, Chris Burgess, Mary Byrd, Leslie Johnson, Julee Waldrop, Barbara Corte and Mobile Ballet Director Karen Kennedy.
Lagniappe contacted defense counsel for comment on the ruling — a prepared 800-plus word statement by attorney Caine O’Rear — which opened with a reference to Lagniappe’s original article of Feb. 15, 2017. The statement read:
“In that article, Lagniappe reported extensively on statements made by plaintiffs Beverly Davis and Monty Thull and their attorney, Ray Thompson, against the defendant directors and Ms. Kennedy. Those statements by Davis, Thull and Thompson which formed the basis of the lawsuit were hotly refuted by the individual director defendants and Ms. Kennedy as false, reckless and defamatory, and the plaintiffs’ claims have now been tossed out of court as the defendants predicted.”
O’Rear’s statement noted the claim for “alleged injunctive relief” was not mentioned in the Feb. 15, 2017, Lagniappe piece. Defense attorneys O’Rear and Windy Bitzer will contest the last claim.
The prepared statement spells out changes at Mobile Ballet in the last year, including the hire of Katia Garza as guest artistic director for the 2017-2018 performance season. A 14-year veteran of the Orlando Ballet, her new production of “The Nutcracker” premieres with Mobile Ballet in December and her version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be staged in March 2018.
The upcoming season begins with the new production “Blaine Hoven — Full Circle” on Nov. 2, a production highlighting Mobile Ballet alumnus and American Ballet Theatre soloist Blaine Hoven along with a cast from both companies.
A new Mobile Ballet ballet master has been hired with the addition of Cuban National Ballet School graduate Eduardo Pi Iglesias.
The statement said 42 dancers for the 2017-2018 Mobile Ballet Company were hired from a “record number of dancers” who auditioned this summer.
Plans for the 15th annual Nutcracker Charity Ball on Dec. 28 continue as well. This year’s selected charity is Boys & Girls Clubs of South Alabama.
The released statement goes further in outlining ulterior motivations for the legal action against Mobile Ballet. It states that current board members believe the three former directors who filed suit using claims “dismissed by the court” are for motives “unrelated to the allegations of the complaint.”
“The Ballet board members are aware of evidence that suggests the plaintiffs, together with others, have set out to damage Mobile Ballet in order to benefit a new competing ballet school. Pam Thompson, the wife of the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in this case (Ray Thompson), is a former employee of Mobile Ballet who is running the new competing school. Counsel for Mobile Ballet state that they will present evidence that persons associated with the new school have spread false rumors about Mobile Ballet and improperly criticized its directors and officers in an attempt to attract students away from Mobile Ballet and to the new school,” the statement reads.
Ray Thompson directly refuted the characterization when asked.
“That is blatantly false. Once Mr. [Winthrop] Corey was kicked out by the people currently running Mobile Ballet, many people left and took their children out and had no place to go. His last day was Dec. 12, 2016. In January of ’17, probably two dozen families approached my wife about teaching their children. She did not approach them,” Thompson told Lagniappe.
He said the lawsuit arose “about the same time in an effort to try to recover control of Mobile Ballet.” Thompson said the new school — Classical Ballet of Mobile — arose from the dust-up but confirmed his wife’s involvement at the school.
Defense counsel is expressly quoted in the statement: “It is truly unfortunate that the former director plaintiffs continue to pursue a case against a charitable cause such as Mobile Ballet when they are no longer associated with it and in which their only interest appears to be in attempting to disparage and harm it. The only explanation can be that they and others are doing so to benefit the new competing school, without regard to the truth or the lack of merit of their allegations.”