The UNC System won’t be getting fully repaid on a $2.5 million trust it provided a controversial Confederate group last year in a backdoor deal that has since crumbled under public scrutiny and a judge’s re-examination.
Instead, over $80,000 of the short-lived “Monument Trust” will end up being paid to non-UNC attorneys who played a role in the creation of the lawsuit settlement that temporarily gave Silent Sam to the North Carolina Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc. on Nov. 27.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour approved those final payments in a new court order on Wednesday, which states that the Monument Trust must be dissolved within 10 days once all of its obligations have been fulfilled and any remaining funds are returned to the UNC System.
The Daily Tar Heel reported last month that students, faculty and alumni had launched a last-ditch legal effort last month to invalidate the requested outside payments, urging Judge Baddour in an amicus brief on March 16 to instead order that the trust be repaid in full to UNC. They argued the trust must be treated as if it never existed in order to truly meet Judge Baddour’s order, thus invalidating any of its past or current activity.
The UNC System and its Board of Governors countered those briefs with their own motion to strike the next day. They pointed to a previous ruling by Judge Baddour on Jan. 10 that the students and faculty don't have standing to participate in the action.
Judge Baddour’s ruling on Wednesday shows that the state’s higher-education authority succeeded in its argument.
As a result, $52,500 of the UNC-funded trust will pay Boyd Sturges, who represented the Confederate group while it sued the UNC System over illegitimate claims to Silent Sam. Another $29,860.50 will pay outside attorneys who provided services for the trust after its creation, which includes a payment of over $17,000 to Matthew McGonagle, the trustee of the Monument Trust, and two smaller payments to outside legal firms whose services McGonagle enlisted for the trust.
Sturges could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.
“Needless to say, we are somewhat shocked by this decision,” said Elizabeth Haddix, managing attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in North Carolina, who represented the student-faculty opposition in its attempt to thwart the trust’s payment, in an email.
The now-defunct Nov. 27 settlement, which was preceded by months of secret negotiations, ordered the trust’s creation for the SCV on broad conditions that its funds be used for “the preservation and benefit of the Confederate Monument.”
UNC System interim President Bill Roper wrote a letter on Nov. 26, one day before the Silent Sam settlement was approved and announced publicly, to UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. Roper's letter directed Guskiewicz, who held his chancellor position on an interim basis at the time, to arrange with appropriate staff at UNC-CH and the UNC System Office to transfer $2,574,999 to the System.
"In the event that the consent judgement is not entered for any reason," Roper wrote, "the UNC System Office will return $2,500,000 to UNC-Chapel Hill."
Judge Baddour, who initially authorized the settlement, eventually reversed that decision. He vacated his original judgement on Feb. 12 and retroactively dismissed the SCV’s lawsuit, finding that the Confederate group never had standing to sue in the first place.
Nationwide criticism, outside legal challenges and undisclosed leaks predated Judge Baddour’s decision to strike down the Silent Sam settlement. The DTH reported in January that in a separate agreement the week previous to the $2.5 million deal, UNC had paid the SCV $74,999 to fund a payoff which was crucial to the Confederate group’s planned Silent Sam lawsuit.
The money transferred in that agreement, which fell $1 short of needing approval by the state’s Attorney General, has not been further addressed in any court orders.
Womble Bond Dickinson attorney Ripley Rand, who has represented the UNC System in the Silent Sam proceedings, could not be reached for comment by the time of publication. Jim Holmes, one of the five UNC System Board of Governors members involved in the SCV negotiations, told the DTH in January that he and other board members couldn’t comment on the case because of ongoing litigation with DTH Media Corp., the parent company of The Daily Tar Heel, which alleges that the board violated the state’s Open Meetings Law when meeting about the $2.5 million Silent Sam settlement.
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