The legal battle between the Paul and Florence Thomas Memorial Art School Inc. (FTAS) and trustees of the Florence Thomas Estate has been moved to the N.C. Business Court, where a judge has been assigned to settle the case.
After a May 4, 2013, hearing, the case had been scheduled to be heard by the Ashe County Superior Court on Aug. 12, but the parties agreed last month to a process of arbitration followed by a Business Court ruling, FTAS Board of Directors Chair Pat Considine said last week.
The arbitration is scheduled for Sept. 3, 2013, Considine said. He said the new venue will enable the case to be addressed in a more efficient and timely manner.
In August 2012, the FTAS, as sole residuary beneficiary of the Florence Thomas Living Trust (FTLT), petitioned the Ashe County Superior Court to prohibit the trustees from selling assets from the Thomas estate to pay inheritance taxes arising from distribution of the estate.
The case quickly became a tangle of defenses, counter claims and cross claims between a series of trustees, Thomas' surviving family, the art school and former beneficiaries deleted from the FTLT in a 2004 amendment to Thomas' will.
The validity of this amendment, which made the art school the sole beneficiary of the trust, is a crucial point in the case contested by Thomas' surviving daughter, Betty Plummer, and former beneficiaries.
The current trustee of the FTLT most recently filed a petition asking the court to declare that the FTAS does not operate an art school, and should not be the beneficiary of the FTLT.
In response, the art school's legal counsel filed new charges of breach of trust and unjust enrichment against Plummer as successor trustee of the FTLT, alleging she failed to follow her mother's directions as set out in the trust.
“As volunteers, the board of directors accepts the fiduciary responsibility to assure we meet the directives stated in the trust agreement by Florence Thomas. That is 'to create an art school for the people of Ashe County and surrounding counties in Ashe County,'” Considine said.
“Addressing these legal issues is part of our responsibility for the people of Ashe County,” he said.
The art school was established by the FTLT in accordance with Thomas' wishes following her death in 2007.