Sunday, February 22, 2015

Kim Birge, Chatham County sued in disputed missing Probate Court funds

Kim Birge, Chatham County sued in disputed missing Probate Court funds

Posted: January 8, 2015 - 3:08pm  |  Updated: January 9, 2015 - 11:12am

The families of four children of victims of the 2008 fire and explosion at the Imperial Sugar Refinery on Thursday sued former Probate Court clerk Kim Birge, Chatham County and a bank for the alleged theft of money held in trust for the children.
The suit, filed by attorney Brent Savage in Chatham County State Court, contends that Birge established an account in what was then The Savannah Bank, without the Probate Court’s authority, then “absconded with the funds which were held in trust for these minor children.”
The suit said $131,801 was deposited in The Savannah Bank, now South State Bank, account on Feb. 29, 2012. South State Bank acquired The Savannah Bank in 2013.
The funds involved represented settlement of suits stemming from the Feb. 7, 2008, fire at the Imperial Sugar refinery in Port Wentworth that killed 14 workers and injured more than 40 others. The mothers of each of the four children were appointed to oversee their children’s property, the suit said.
“These funds are not available and not currently located in any account and defendant Birge is criminally culpable for this loss,” the suit contends.
Birge, 60, was placed on investigative suspension without pay Nov. 20 during a probe of “discrepancies with the services” that Birge was responsible for, Judge Harris Lewis said in a Nov. 20 letter.
She subsequently was fired by Lewis on Dec. 2 after word surfaced of a criminal investigation into her activities by federal and local law enforcement.
“Upon information and belief, defendant Birge used plaintiff’s settlement funds to purchase high-priced luxury items including but not limited to a Chevrolet Corvette,” the suit contends.
Savage also sued Chatham County, contending it was responsible both for Birge’s actions and alleged “negligence of the judge of Probate Court for his failure to properly monitor the actions of (Birge).”
The county also “negligently and irresponsibly managed or monitored” the management of plaintiffs’ settlement funds, the suit alleged.
South State Bank improperly monitored the account under Birge’s control, the suit alleged.
Savage contended his efforts to resolve the issues before going to court have been ignored by Chatham County and the bank.
The suit also charged that Chatham County, through its employees, “was aware of Birge’s gambling problems,” yet she remained employed at the court “until December 2014 and virtually ran the probate court with little supervision from the probate judge,” the suit said.
A telephone call to Birge’s home Thursday was not answered.
County Attorney Jonathan Hart said Thursday evening he had not been served with the suit, so he did not know what was in it.
But, Hart said, the county is cooperating with the appropriate agencies and is conducting a forensic audit to determine an accurate status of the questioned funds.
“Until that is completed, any comment by us would be speculative,” Hart said. “The county does not run the Probate Court” but does provide financial support for its operation.
Attorney Quentin Marlin declined comment Thursday for the bank.
Meanwhile, attorneys for Chatham County have filed documents in the ongoing pay dispute with Lewis contending that he is responsible for appointing a clerk and if liability exists because of the missing money, he is responsible for the acts or inactions.

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