Richmond County’s Probate judge is getting involved in the Pendleton King Park controversy.
Judge Harry B. James has called for a hearing next month regarding the trust that established Pendleton as a public park “in perpetuity” in memory of his son, John Pendleton King II. His action follows Augusta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Natalie Paine’s decision to file a civil complaint last week seeking an injunction to stop the park’s sale to Winchester Homebuilders for $1.2 million.
The district attorney’s complaint filed in Richmond County Superior Court seeks an injunction to prohibit the sale of Pendleton to respect King’s final wishes. It also seeks to declare the sales contract void; order the trustees to provide a full accounting of all assets, income and expenses of the King trust; and file all outstanding annual returns with the probate court.
It’s unclear when any of the park’s three trustees last filed a return with the probate court, which has prompted James’ action.
“After reading what I’ve read in the papers and having my staff do a little research, I found there are some questions that need to be answered,” James said.
Trusts as old and sizable as the Pendleton trust are unusual in Augusta but not unheard of, James said. Each trustee carries an individual fiduciary responsibility to keep probate up to date on trust activities, he said.
“Most trustees, they file their annual returns and we have staff that review them, scrutinize them for an accounting to make sure they are correct.”
That no one knew until after the fact that two trustees had signed a sales contract to turn over Pendleton King Park to a developer shouldn’t be a surprise because in Georgia, trustees are left to self-police, said attorney Jack Long, who has served as a trustee numerous times.
The only ones who can make a trustee accountable is the attorney general or the district attorney, Long said. He praised Paine for taking action on Dec. 19 against trustees Clarence Barinowski and Troy Breitmann, who signed the sales contract Oct. 25 on behalf of Queensborough Bank and Trust.
“I think Paine is absolutely correct. The code section gives her the authority,” Long said.
The annual return is a basic accounting of trust activity for the year, including what assets went in, what assets went out, what was paid and who it was paid to, any interest made and the final balance at the time the return is filed, James said.
“It’s so the probate court can be informed as to what is going on with the trust; are they handling the trust correctly; no waste, no fraudulent activity or inappropriate spending,” James said.
Reach Sandy Hodson and Susan McCord at (706) 724-0851.