SCLC factions battle for control of bank accounts, leadership positions

The board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has asked a judge to order an opposing faction of the civil rights group to stop claiming they are in leadership positions.

The lawsuit filed late Monday also asks a judge to restore signature rights to the SCLC bank accounts so staff can be paid and the return of more than $12,240 taken from the organization to pay a lawyer to represent the splinter group.

Both factions had board meetings on Monday and Tuesday.

Both groups insist they are they are the official ruling body.

And, most of the time, information from the two factions is in conflict.

A group led by Raleigh Trammell, the ousted SCLC chairman, and Spicer Gordon, the former treasurer, met in Eutaw, Ala. They said almost 30 board members out of 52 attended.

At the same time, the faction that voted Trammell and Gordon out more than a week ago met at West Hunter Street Baptist Church in southwest Atlanta. They said more than half the 44 board members attended.

The two groups not only disagree on who is in charge, they also disagree over how many people are on the board -- one claims 52 and the other 44 -- and who is on it.

The SCLC has had many internal yet public struggles since its founding in 1957. Rev. Bernice King, the daughter of one SCLC founder, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was elected president in October but has not taken office or said anything publicly about the fight. She is expected to be installed at the national meeting this summer.

The rancorous split began forming last summer when a former board member raised concerns about SCLC expenditures. In December, several board members asked Trammell, of Dayton, Ohio, and Gordon, of Eutaw, to step aside pending the outcome of an internal investigation into suspected financial improprieties.

According to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Trammell and Gordon may have diverted $569,000 of SCLC funds to themselves or to their individual projects. That is why some board members wanted to two men removed.

Trammell and Gordon filed a suit in December, claiming the board had voted to remove them in an improper vote taken over the telephone. Fulton Judge Alford Dempsey agreed, saying the telephone meeting did not comply with the SCLC constitution.

Dempsey gave Trammell and his backers control of SCLC bank accounts and the office on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta.

Then according to court documents filed Monday, Trammell, Gordon and their supporters on Jan. 29 removed some board members and added 15 to their liking.

After more court documents were filed, Dempsey ruled that the reconstitution of the board by Trammell and Gordon also was improper.

On April 10, 19 board members voted to remove Trammell and Gordon. The newly-elected chairwoman, Sylvia Tucker, also sent letters to the people who believed they were added to the board at the January meeting Trammell called, telling them they were not on the board.

She later sent letters telling Trammell, Gordon and others asking them to stop claiming to be in SCLC leadership positions. Letters also were sent to Markel Hutchins of Atlanta who continues to say he is board member.

The lawsuit singles out Hutchins but does not name any of the others the Trammell-Gordon faction added to the board.

Hutchins told the AJC he is disappointed in the "circus-like atmosphere of continued litigiousness," adding that a judge has requested the two sides settle their differences internally and not in court.

"I continue to call upon the minority faction to cease and desist" the continued filing of lawsuits, Hutchins said.

Trammell and  Gordon did not respond to telephone messages and e-mails seeking comment. Members of the other side of the dispute also did not respond to phone messages.

The suit said Trammell, Gordon and Hutchins continued “to illegally hold” themselves out as SCLC directors even after they were told to stop.

The suit also said the three men along with three others who back Trammell had interfered with “the lawful and legal operation of the SCLC.”

The lawsuit says the renegade group has “seized control” of the SCLC bank accounts and "converted funds and property of SCLC for their own use.”

Because of the fight over control of the money, SCLC employees and vendors cannot be paid because three banks holding SCLC accounts have refused to release any funds until a court has resolved the matter, according to an affidavit.

“It is important that SCLC staff and other vendors be paid,” executive director Ron Woods wrote in an affidavit.