DECATUR, Ga. -- The question of who is the legitimate president of the nation’s oldest, black college fraternity was put off Tuesday until a Friday hearing.
The Rev. Herman “Skip” Mason, an Athens pastor who’s often linked with celebrities, is suing the board of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity for dismissing him as the volunteer head of the organization in April. The ouster came over his admission that he took fraternity funds for his personal use, including paying his children’s private-school tuition. His attorneys argued that the board did not follow its own procedures and that he had agreed to repay the funds.
Mason wants to finish the remaining six months of his term that began in 2008 and to have the board stop harming his reputation.
“Everything they’ve done has been illegal, shady and under the table,” said James Walker, who is representing Mason.
Lawyers for both sides were eager to present their case in a hearing Tuesday in DeKalb County Superior Court. Several board members were present, staying in town after a weekend meeting in Atlanta.
But Judge Mathew Robins said he needed more time to consider changes in the suit Mason’s lawyers filed immediately before the scheduled hearing.
Robins said from his reading of the original lawsuit filing that the court could do nothing for Mason since it was solely a fraternity matter.
“Why are we involved in this internal strife?” the judge asked.
He changed his mind when Walker told him the amended filings include information on the small financial allotment Mason lost in his ouster, making the issue more than just the control of the organization.
Robins made several concessions to allow Mason a day in court. He allowed Walker to represent him even though he is not a member of the Georgia bar and hasn’t transferred his law license since moving to the state 10 months ago.
The board’s attorney, Eric Barnum, said the judge should have immediately thrown out the suit because Walker didn’t follow procedures for contacting other attorneys involved and for not making his case in the initial filing. Barnum also argued it wasn’t a matter for a Georgia court since the fraternity was incorporated in Illinois and has its offices in Maryland.
“The court’s only recourse is to deny it,” he said.
He also countered the argument that the board wasn’t proper. If not, why didn’t Mason raise the issue when he presided over its meetings before his ouster, Barnum asked.
He also argued the board had not tarnished Mason’s reputation.
“Mr. Mason stood up in front of thousands of members of the fraternity and admitted to misappropriation of funds,” Barnum said.
Critics accuse Mason of using fraternity funds to jet around the country in first class, stay in elegant hotel suites and hire limousines while being insensitive to the many of the alumni who are out of work as a result of the recent recession.
Mason’s supporters say he has raised the profile of the fraternity, including completion of the campaign to raise funds for the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington.