Alabama A&M Board of Trustees member sues university officials, saying they refuse to address financial mismanagement

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NORMAL, Ala. – Trustee James Montgomery has filed a lawsuit against Alabama A&M’s Board of Trustees of Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU). The suit also includes University President Dr. Andrew Hugine. In the suit, Montgomery alleges the university spends tens-of-thousands of dollars every month on private auditors that never criticize the university’s practices, while public auditors continue to find problems, discrepancies, and fraud. He says he’s been retaliated against for attempting to address financial mismanagement.

In addition to the Board of Trustees, Montgomery has called out certain members of the board, that’s made up of 11 people. Members called out in the lawsuit include Kevin Ball, Ginger Harper, Dr. Hattie Myles, Chris Robinson, Andre Taylor, Velma J. Tribue, and Dr. Jerome B. Williams.

It also names Former Alabama Representative Oliver L. Robinson for his “defamatory communications” about Montgomery to President Pro Tempore Andre Taylor, all board members, and the Governor’s Office.

In the complaint, Montgomery says he brought misconduct going on within the board to the board’s attention. He said in 2009, Kevin Rolle was hired and served as the Executive Vice President under Dr. Hugine. Montgomery, the suit says, thought Rolle should’ve been disqualified because Rolle filed bankruptcy, and at the time, was on probation for a DUI infraction.

Montgomery says from time to time he also brought to the Board’s attention certain financial and ethical improprieties. He claims Rolle had very questionable financial expenditures, including a payment of $6,500 for purported moving expenses.

Montgomery claims to have questioned the expenses, but he says University President Dr. Andrew Hugine refused to listen and so did fellow board members.

He said he also questioned the requirement of paying private auditors $75,000 per month when it appeared that they never made any adverse findings or recommendations, or any promulgated compliance directives.

Montgomery says in 2014 he requested Alabama’s Chief Examiner of Public Accounts Ron Jones send an auditor to audit the University’s finances. In the report it revealed the receipt for $6,500 Rolle submitted was fraudulent. In the lawsuit, it claims Alabama auditors made several findings and made several recommendations to the University to achieve compliance.

In 2015, Rolle was indicted for theft and possession of a forged instrument. In October of 2015, the board approved Dr. Hugine’s contract renewal. It was something Montgomery didn’t agree with and spoke out to several media outlets about.

He complained the renewal was not done in accordance with the bylaws of the board, and he says he reached out to the Governor’s office regarding the illegality of it.  Montgomery constantly spoke out to media, and he said because of this, some board members began a campaign of harassment against him.

He said articles were published accusing him of being against Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which he says is a lie. He says all of his concerns were motivated by his attempt to eliminate financial improprieties and his continuous attempts to promote effective and efficient stewardship of the University’s resources. He said these are things that’s been lacking under the Dr. Hugine’s administration.

Montgomery also claims to have been harassed in 2015. In the lawsuit he said he received letters from the Alabama Ethics Commission accusing him of misconduct in a prior political campaign in Anniston, Alabama. He said those letters were forged and were false and were designed to inflict emotional distress on him.

Montgomery says when he wrote to the Ethics Commission they advised him at the time there were nor pending ethics complaints against him. He said on November 16, 2015  a letter was sent from State Representative Oliver Robinson to Trustee Andre Taylor, accusing Montgomery of rude and disruptive behavior involving alcohol.

He said the letter constituted a publication that contained knowingly false and defamatory material about him. He said this was clearly done in retaliation for him speaking out to the public about holding Hugine’s administration accountable.

Montgomery says he kept speaking out about the mismanaged funds and The University’s President. Then in 2016, he claims Board Member Kevin Ball published a memorandum regarding a proposed censure of Montgomery.

According to the lawsuit, on February 16, 2016 the Board voted on a resolution to censure Montgomery. The complaint claims the censure was in retaliation for speaking out about matters concerning the public. It also says the censure was outside the authority of the Board and no such action by the Board has ever been prescribed or authorized by the Alabama legislature.

It also claims Defendant Jerome D. Williams, on behalf of himself and the remaining board members and Hugine, also submitted a letter to the Alabama Ethics Commission complaining of purported ethics violations by Montgomery.

In the complaint it says the ethics violations charged Montgomery falsely with harassment as well as false claims that the Plaintiff was “demand[ing that] the university award contracts worth millions of dollars through a business partner.” In the lawsuit Montgomery said those charges were knowingly and utterly false, malicious, and wholly unfounded, and constituted both defamation and a violation of the Alabama ethics statute.

Montgomery is suing all A&M board members and Dr. Hugine in their official and individual capacities for retaliation under the First Amendment.

He’s also suing all individuals defendants in their capacities for defamation. Then he’s suing Dr. Jerome B. Williams for violation of Alabama Code Section 36-25-24.

WHNT News 19 has reached out to Alabama A&M for comment. They say the defendants named in the in the complaint haven’t officially been served just yet.

Montgomery’s Lawyer John Saxon gave us the following statement regarding his client:

“Jim Montgomery is a dedicated A & M Board member of eleven years tenure.  On the Board, he is a voice—often a lone voice—of reason, responsibility, and integrity.  In retaliation for speaking out on matters of public concern, he has been removed from Board committees, censured, and had false ethics charges brought against him, proving the maxim “no good deed goes unpunished”. I am honored to represent him.  This is a serious lawsuit about serious problems at A & M.

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