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Humane Society wins a round in dispute over fund

By Eunice Trotter
September 3, 2004

A group of animal welfare organizations won't be heard from in court next week when the Humane Society of Indianapolis seeks approval to borrow against one of its trust funds, a judge ruled this week.

The organizations' request was denied Tuesday by probate court Judge Charles J. Deiter.

The organizations had hoped to stop the Humane Society from using its $3.2 million Mary Powell Crume Benevolent Public Trust as collateral for a $2.3 million line of credit to stay afloat, said Veronica Jarnagin, attorney for the group, on Thursday.

The financially strapped Humane Society has already "gone through $15 million in 10 years" and now wants to put the balance of the trust at risk, Jarnagin said. The organizations might appeal Deiter's ruling, she added.

Deiter has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday that will determine whether the trust fund may be used as collateral. The other organizations will not be permitted to participate.

The organizations protesting the society's plans include Spay-Neuter Services of Indiana, Alliance for Responsible Pet Ownership, Home for Friendless Animals, Southside Animal Shelter and Move to Act. Norma Jean Balcom, an heir of a Crume descendant, also was listed in the suit against the Humane Society's plan.

Humane Society Executive Director Martha Boden said Deiter's decision makes it clear who has the authority to act for the public over a public trust.

Deiter ruled that the state attorney general is the representative of the public interest involving questions about public trusts, and individual members of the public have no right to file such a court action.

Boden acknowledges the society has had financial difficulties and now has $720,000 in debt. The organization has been operating on a $900,000 line of credit that used its other trust fund as collateral. That fund is valued at $1.4 million.

Boden said the society's intent has been to work with the other animal advocates in a collaborative way, but she said their goal is to replace the Humane Society as the beneficiary of the Crume trust. She said the society has worked out a plan with the attorney general that will have the society solvent by mid-2006.

Jarnagin said several organizations have the ability to fulfill Crume's will, which was to provide a safe haven for abandoned animals, using only the interest earned from the trust fund. At the time of her will in 1921, the only organization providing the service was the Indianapolis Humane Society, the forerunner of the Humane Society of Indianapolis, she said. The woman died in the 1930s, and the fund was set up in 1940.

Call Star reporter Eunice Trotter at (317) 444-6037.

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