Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Wealthy Republican Family Hangs Out Its Dirty Laundry Down South

Ted W. Rollins

Perhaps the biggest legal story in the South right now involves what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has called the "public disintegration" of the Rollins family.

What is the Rollins family? It is one of America's wealthiest clans, best known as the folks behind Orkin Pest Control. They have cultivated an image as low-key philanthropists, but two lawsuits recently filed in Atlanta pull the mask off Rollins Inc.

It's a story about massive wealth, family dysfunction, and Republican Party politics--with a roundabout connection to the wacky Christine O'Donnell. It's also a story with ties to Alabama, where a member of the Rollins family has played center stage in one of the most grotesque examples of courtroom injustice I've ever encountered.

Regular readers know I would not make that last statement lightly. But I have closely examined the file in a case styled Rollins vs. Rollins. It's a domestic-relations case that Ted W. Rollins filed against his wife,  Sherry Carroll Rollins, who had moved to Shelby County, Alabama, from the couple's home in Greenville, South Carolina.

Sherry Rollins had already filed for divorce in South Carolina, and a judge had issued a warrant for Ted Rollins' arrest for failure to pay child support. But Ted Rollins somehow managed to get the case transferred to Alabama. Anyone who has taken a few days of Law School 101 knows that cannot be done.  But it apparently can be done when you are a member of one of America's wealthiest families, and you have ties to Bradley Arant Boult and Cummings, one of Alabama's largest law firms.

With the help of some dumbfounding decisions by Shelby County Judge Al Crowson, who just happened to retire early as the case was winding down, Ted Rollins received a judgment that was both stunningly favorable and blatantly unlawful.

Public records indicate that, at the time the Rollins case was moved to Alabama, Ted Rollins was such a deadbeat dad that he was a fugitive from justice. But with his ties to massive wealth and the Bradley Arant firm, he was welcomed with open arms in the Heart of Dixie.

The corrupt machinations of Judge Crowson in Shelby County have left Sherry Rollins struggling to survive while she raises the couple's two daughters, Sarah and Emily, who are now teen-agers. Ted Rollins, now remarried, recently put together an initial public offering (IPO) for his latest venture, Campus Crest Communities, which entered the New York Stock Exchange earlier this month. The anticipated value of the IPO is $380 million.

We have written extensively about corruption in Alabama's domestic-relations courts. But Rollins vs. Rollins might be the ugliest civil case, of any kind, that I have ever seen. That is saying something, and we will be writing much more about it.

But what about the larger Rollins family feud, the one that has tongues wagging in Atlanta? First, some background about the Rollinses. Their roots are in Georgia, and the business family tree essentially has two prongs that were established by a couple of industrious brothers--O. Wayne Rollins and John W. Rollins.

After World War II, John W. Rollins moved to Delaware and opened an automobile dealership. His brother soon joined him in the business, and they expanded into broadcasting, outdoor advertising, pest control, truck leasing, and more. They became heavily involved in harness racing and motorsports, and the family has close ties to Dover Downs and Dover International Speedway.

John W. Rollins became a major figure in the Republican Party. He was elected lieutenant governor of Delaware in 1956 and lost in a bid for governor in 1960. John W. Rollins died in 2000, but his third wife, Michele Rollins, is carrying on the political tradition. She ran this year for the Delaware U.S. House seat that was vacated by Mike Castle. Michele Rollins lost in the GOP primary, a result that was overshadowed on the national stage when Christine O'Donnell shocked Castle in the primary for a U.S. Senate seat.

The Atlanta feud involves the O. Wayne Rollins side of the family. Here is how the Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes it:

The battle royale in the family erupted just a year after the death of the family's 98-year-old matriarch, Grace Crum Rollins.

On Aug. 23, Rollins siblings Glen W., Ruth Ellen, Nancy Louise, and O. Wayne II filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court against their father, Gary Rollins, and their uncle, R. Randall Rollins, over two trusts established for them. The suit seeks information on the trusts, the siblings' attorney said.

The lawsuit also names another board member, Henry B. Tippie, who, with Gary and R. Randall oversees those trusts.

On Aug. 25, the children's mother, Ruth M. Rollins, petitioned for divorce from Gary, seeking to dissolve their nearly 45-year marriage.

The "marriage of the parties is irretrievably broken" and "there is no hope for reconciliation," according to the petition, which also was filed in Fulton County Superior Court.

On Tuesday, the Rollins board, led by CEO Gary W. Rollins, 66, and chairman R. Randall Rollins, 78, fired Gary's son Glen, 44, an executive vice president and leader of Rollins' most recognizable brand, Orkin pest control.

That's a lot of unpleasantness. But it's relatively minor league compared to the nastiness, and blatant unlawfulness, that is present in the Rollins v. Rollins case in Alabama.

That case has gone unreported in the mainstream press. But we are preparing to take a serious look at it.


James Greek said...

OMG. Would make one hell of a soap opera.

Erin said...

That's nuts.
I just feel sorry for his two girls. It's hard being a teenager and not having your father there... and clearly his finances aren't the problem.