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Local non-profit wins case against Morgan Keegan

A Chilton County non-profit organization will be awarded more than $200,000 after a state court denied a request by investment firm Morgan Keegan to overturn a decision by a securities arbitrator.

Carolyn Bland–co-founder with her husband, Richard Bland, of Verbena-based United Prison Ministries International–said the case began because Morgan Keegan representatives were not forthcoming about failing UPMI investments with the company.

“The stocks went down, and a lot of people didn’t know it,” Bland said. “A lot of people lost everything. We couldn’t afford to lose donors’ money. We weren’t going to lose it.

“We were not warned. All they had to do was let us know, and we could take the money out.”

According to its website, UPMI distributes free Bibles and other Christian publications to prisoners in the United States and several foreign countries.

Morgan Keegan was contacted Tuesday afternoon, but the company did not provide comment before press time.

According to Financial Industry Regulatory Authority guidelines, UPMI and Morgan Keegan first entered into arbitration, which resulted in UPMI being awarded compensation on June 22, 2009.

Bland declined to provide the amount UPMI was awarded, but Richard Bland told Dow Jones Newswires in April that his company lost more than $200,000 in what he called a “slick operation.” Also, the Wall Street Journal reported UPMI was awarded $220,000.

Morgan Keegan appealed the finding, arguing the chairwoman of the arbitration panel was biased.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Nicole Gordon Still ruled there was not sufficient evidence to prove bias on the part of Lita Menkin, the arbitration panel member.

“Morgan Keegan’s argument and evidentiary support is compelling but does not rise to the level of a reasonable demonstration; they can only offer speculation–there is no specific instance of Menkin showing bias or prejudice against Morgan Keegan,” reads Still’s order, which is dated May 26. “The mere fact that she has served on arbitration panels of Morgan Keegan, and has ruled against Morgan Keegan in the past, is not enough to establish bias or prejudice.”