CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Former Mecklenburg District Judge Bill Belk has lost another legal battle – this one over allegations of misuse of money in his daughter’s trust account.
The N.C. Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a judge’s ruling ordering Belk to pay $73,269 that he had inappropriately spent from his daughter’s trust account.
The appeals court judges also upheld Superior Court Judge Erwin Spainhour’s rulings ordering Belk to pay $58,944 in interest to his daughter’s trust account and $138,043 in legal fees accrued by his ex-wife.
Spainhour had cited repeated examples of what he called Belk’s misuse of the money from his daughter’s trust account, including a $5,000 contribution to a Republican Party group. The judge ordered Belk, the millionaire grandson of the Belk stores founder, removed as custodian of his daughter’s account.
“He treated the custodial account as his own property,” Spainhour wrote, “to do with as he pleased in making a significant political contribution in his own name.”
The judge also noted that Belk had paid his daughter’s medical and dental bills from the custodial account instead of his personal funds.
The account for Suzanne Belk had been funded mostly with gifts of company stock from Irwin Belk, Bill Belk’s father. Bill Belk had been in charge of administering the account until his daughter turns 21. Suzanne is now 18.
“We’re very pleased with the decision,” said Elizabeth Hodges, one of the attorneys who represents Bill Belk’s ex-wife and their daughter in the lawsuit over the trust account. “We think it is the right decision – a just decision.”
Hodges, an attorney with the Charlotte law firm of Horack Talley Pharr & Lowndes, added: “These were funds that belonged to Suzanne Belk. … There are consequences for mismanagement of trust accounts.”
Bill Belk, contacted by phone about the 52-page appeals court ruling, said: “How can I comment when I haven’t read it? I don’t know anything about it.”
Spainhour’s order in 2010 was the latest legal battle for Belk, who hasn’t had much luck over the years with judges. In Belk’s marathon divorce case, one judge denied him custody of his children. Another judge awarded his ex-wife a majority of their $5 million joint estate. A third judge found him in contempt and threatened to put him in jail.
Belk, elected to the district court bench in 2008, resigned his judgeship in 2009 amid allegations of misconduct. The N.C. Supreme Court in 2010 banned Belk from ever again holding a judgeship in North Carolina. The justices ruled that Belk had “demonstrated willful misconduct in office.”
Belk had challenged Spainhour’s decisions in the lawsuit over his daughter’s trust account. He called the amount awarded in attorney’s fees unreasonable. He argued that the judge erred in concluding that one of the transactions had been a speculative investment inappropriate for him to have made as custodian for his daughter and that his making the investment was a breach of his duty.
The appeals court ruling said Belk also challenged almost all the judge’s findings surrounding the disbursements he made from his daughter’s trust account. Belk appeared to argue, the appeals court judges noted, that the trial court judge erred in concluding that the disbursements were wrongful and not in Suzanne’s best interests.
The appeals court judges didn’t buy Belk’s legal arguments.
“We find competent evidence in the record to support the trial court’s findings and conclusions that each disbursement was inappropriate,” the appeals court judges wrote in their opinion. “We find (Belk’s) wholesale attack on each and every finding of fact by the trial court to be without merit.”