Judge: Masters Case Can Move Forward, But Plaintiff Can’t Sue for Damages

Joey Masters (Photo: WHNT News 19 File)

Joey Masters (Photo: WHNT News 19 File)

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – A lawsuit against Marshall County Revenue Commissioner Joey Masters will move forward, but the judge put some limits on the case Friday.

Judge Tim Riley ruled Kenneth Downs, the plaintiff, cannot sue for damages against Masters.  Riley said the case can move forward, though.  Read the ruling.

Downs, of Grant, filed the lawsuit in his capacity as a resident, citizen and taxpayer of Marshall County.  He claims Masters gave tax breaks to wealthy friends and political supporters.  Downs and his lawyer, Randy Beard, said these tax breaks cost Marshall County around $20 million in ad valorem money, as shown in an audit by the Alabama Department of Revenue.

WHNT News 19 spoke with Beard on Friday about the judge’s latest ruling.

“Based on my understanding of the court order it gives us the ability to have Joey Masters testify and it will give him the opportunity to deny under oath that he caused Marshall County, its cities and its schools millions of dollars by giving tax breaks over the past several years to his wealthy friends and political supporters,” said Beard.

“[Masters] has stated in interviews that he only reduced taxes for poor people who are in danger of losing their homes.  It’s odd if that’s true — the audit shows that the only people who received the reductions were wealthy folks in addition to his family members,” Beard added.  “This order is important because for the first time it will allow the residents of Marshall County and the tax payers to see the magnitude of the wrong that’s been committed.  It will allow the county residents to see how much they’ve lost as a result of simple corruption.”

We asked Beard about his client not being able to sue for damages.

“This is not about Kenneth Downs,” Beard said.  “It’s not about money damages.  This case is about right and wrong and the public’s right to know what’s happening to their tax money.”

The Alabama Department of Revenue took over Masters’ office in 2012 after an audit found irregularities.  Masters did not work from December 2012 until August 2013, when he returned to an office set up for him at the Albertville courthouse.

It’s not clear where Masters was for nine months, but he drew his salary of $67,000 per year while he was gone.

The lawsuit initially named the Marshall County Commission, but the Commission was dropped as a defendant.


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