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Judge Rules Against Both Parties In Lawsuit Over Kansas City's Mutual Musicians Foundation

Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
The Mutual Musicians Foundation at 1823 Highland Avenue in Kansas City's 18th and Vine district.

A judge has delivered a verdict in a lawsuit over control of Kansas City's Mutual Musicians Foundation, and it's a draw.  

Once the union hall for the Colored Musicians Local 627, the foundation is one of only two National Historic Landmarks in Kansas City (the other one is the Liberty Memorial). These days it is known for its after-hours jam sessions on Saturdays and Sundays.

Anita Dixon, who served as the board's vice president, often represented the organization as the spokesperson. But in August 2016, she was ousted after a heated board meeting. In a lawsuit filed in October 2016 and updated in March 2017, Dixon claimed other board members, including chairman James Hathaway, failed to comply with bylaws, took a cut from jam session entry fees, and retaliated against her.

A counterclaim by the defendants, including Hathaway, alleged that Dixon used foundation funds for her own use, took artifacts, photographs, and other items, and left the foundation more than $8,000 in debt.

After a bench trial, Circuit Court Judge Charles McKenzie on Friday ruled for the defendants; he denied Dixon's request for payment for damages and for the removal of the defendants as directors. 

But on the defendants' counterclaim of embezzlement and theft, McKenzie sided with Dixon.

According to the judgment, both parties will be responsible for their own attorney fees, but the costs of the litigation would be paid by Dixon. 

Dixon's response to the verdict: "Of course, sadness." 

She added, "Essentially, we're back where we started. The judge didn't give them what I wanted. And the judge didn't give them what they wanted against me."

Hathaway's attorney, Roy King, described the verdict as a "summary judgment," short and final. King told KCUR he's advised his client not to comment in the event that an appeal is filed within the 30-day window.

"If it looks like there's a viable appeal, I will," said Dixon. "But, if not, I'm going to throw myself into making a difference, wherever I go, whatever I do." 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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