Home News Local News Alumni group will not appeal, votes to disband

Alumni group will not appeal, votes to disband

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After a long legal battle with the New Mexico Military Institute, an independent alumni group has decided not to pursue further action and will close the nonprofit. (File Photo)

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[This post has been updated to correct the date when Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle joined NMMI and when discussions that eventually led to a lawsuit began.]

The Institute Alumni Association will not appeal a recent court decision in a lawsuit involving the New Mexico Military Institute and has decided to dissolve, according to its executive director.

Calling the situation a sad and unfortunate one that he thinks has cost the school a “lot of goodwill,” Daniel Whitfield said that three of the five board members of the independent nonprofit alumni association met by phone Tuesday and voted unanimously not to pursue action regarding an Oct. 22 decision by the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

The recent court decision upheld a 2014 ruling by the 5th Judicial District Court in Carlsbad that found in favor of the school in a lawsuit it filed against the alumni group in June 2013. Without finding that the New Mexico Military Institute Alumni Association, as it was known then, had breached any of its agreements or obligations, the judge ruled that NMMI had a right to end its affiliation with group. Judge Jane Shuler-Gray also found that the association had acted as an agent for NMMI and, therefore, had to transfer all funds raised on behalf of the school or its students to the school.

After the court’s final ruling was entered in 2016, the association renamed itself and transferred about $4 million worth of funds and physical assets to the NMMI Foundation.

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NMMI then filed a second lawsuit in September 2016 seeking the association’s dissolution. In that case, NMMI declared itself an “unsatisfied creditor,” still owed court costs, as awarded by the judge. Whitfield said the board members also voted Tuesday not to fight that matter and to dissolve the association.

“We just felt that, on the advice of the attorney, we had very limited options,” Whitfield said, adding that available avenues were expensive, with long odds for success.

“We could have gone to the Supreme Court with a writ certiorari,” he said, “but they accept very few of those and, after they do accept them, very few result in decisions being overturned.”

NMMI also has filed a lawsuit against three individuals in New Mexico and one in Texas who have served on the association board. That matter remains in the 5th Judicial District Court. Neither Whitfield nor NMMI representatives chose to comment on the pending litigation, which was originally filed in May 2017, and alleges that the individuals did not appropriately handle funds. A call to the lawyer for the defendants was not returned by press time.

Whitfield said that the group’s members, which number about 2,500, will be notified by email this week and that the closure of the Roswell office and the dissolution of the nonprofit corporation are expected to be completed in about 60 days.

He added that the group has some records it has retained on the advice of counsel in case NMMI requests those and a mobile barbecue that NMMI might claim. Other than that, he said, no other assets remain that would belong to the school.

He said that he thinks NMMI has “lost a lot of goodwill” among many alumni by its decision to engage in a five-year lawsuit and added that he considered the litigation unnecessary because the association had always allocated the scholarship funds as NMMI staff and committees decided.

“They really haven’t gained anything from that, and we think we could have worked something out between them and we asked through our attorney a couple of times, more than a couple of times, and were always turned away,” he said. “I think that many people will take a second look at how they view the Institute, but we will have to see how that goes.”

According to one alumnus, the alumni association had its roots in an athletic booster club formed in 1929. The NMMI Alumni Association was formed in 1964, originally staffed by NMMI employees. In 1993, it became an independent nonprofit, but was given office space and other assistance by the school while operating under several Memoranda of Agreement (MOAs).

Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle joined the school in 2009 and, in 2010, began to question how the association was run. Given his background in accounting, he especially focused on the need for audited financial statements and audited tax returns. After revisions of the MOA and other activities related to changing the situation, the Board of Regents and Grizzle decided to file suit.

A NMMI spokesman said that the school did pursue other remedies besides a court case.

“While NMMI attempted to resolve the relevant issues of the lawsuit, both outside and within the boundary of the legal action, those efforts were rejected,” said Public Affairs Officer Carl Hansen. “Thus, NMMI was compelled to protect the trust placed in the school by donors.”

He also said that NMMI continues to value its alumni.

“On behalf of the Board of Regents and NMMI administration, NMMI will continue to serve and support its alumni to the best of its ability as it has done for over 125 years. Our alumni, from the first to the most recent to those yet to come, hold a special place in the continuing history of the school, the only one of its kind in the nation,” Hansen said.

“Alumni, as well as parents and friends of NMMI, have contributed to the support of our cadets through scholarships and programs, and continue to expand that support. Our responsibility is to remain good stewards of donor funds and continue to distribute those funds according to donor wishes.”

Whitfield said whether relationships between NMMI and the alumni group members can be improved remains to be seen. He added that some members have talked about forming some other type of group. But, he said, such decisions will have to wait until the immediate matters of dissolving the nonprofit and closing the office are handled.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.