The Montgomery Advertiser

Supreme Court to Hear Two Cases at Two Today

By Alvin Benn

TROY -- A Montgomery taxpayer who wants Retirement Systems of Alabama chief David Bronner to reimburse the RSA $6,000 for alleged illegal use of stationery will present his case before the Alabama Supreme Court here today.

Gerald Knutson claims Bronner spent $6,000 on paper to encourage RSA members to support a referendum on a tax increase for education in Montgomery County in 1994. The referendum was defeated.

Bronner responded by countersuing -- asking that Knutson be fined $1,000 for not filing appropriate paperwork to form a political action committee that fought the tax increase.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge William Gordon granted Bronner a summary judgment in March 1996, effectively tossing the matter out of court. Knutson has taken his case to the state's highest court for a resolution.

RSA attorney William Stephens said Thursday afternoon that Bronner is not expected to be in court today. Knutson is represented by George C. Douglas Jr. of Birmingham.

The Supreme Court will be asked to decide if Knutson has legal standing to challenge Bronner's expenditure of public funds. Knutson has argued that, as a taxpayer, he can challenge Bronner because a portion of the RSA budget used to buy the stationery came from taxes.

Bronner has argued that once tax dollars are paid into the RSA, they no longer are "state" funds, but belong exclusively to RSA members, the Supreme Court wrote in a description of the case. Total RSA assets are about $18 billion.

Knutson has argued that Bronner's effort to have him fined $1,000 amounts to a bid to enforce a criminal penalty in a civil case. Knutson said Bronner's attempt amounts to a frivolous lawsuit.

The RSA case is one of two that will be argued before the Supreme Court, which will convene at the Adams Center Theater to hear oral arguments. The Supreme Court, which occasionally travels through the state to allow the public to hear selected cases, was at Judson College in Perry County last year.

The first case involves an appeal by State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. in a matter involving a woman who sued over a dispute involving replacement of a ring.

Katherine Owen filed a claim with State Farm to recoup the loss after her ring was stolen, according to the case summary. The insurance company mailed her a check for $898.70 to cover the missing ring, but Owen sued, claiming misrepresentation by State Farm on her policy.

A jury awarded Owen $1,339 in compensatory damages and $130,000 in punitive damages. State Farm has appealed.

Montgomery lawyer Michael Jackson represents State Farm while Mobile lawyers Toby Brown and David Wirtes represent Owen.

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