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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Funds Raised for Rice Family Get Caught in Legal Morass; New Fundraising Effort Under Way

Posted By on Tue, May 5, 2015 at 11:03 AM

click to enlarge The current GoFundMe account
  • The current GoFundMe account
The Rice family is not OK.

Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir, stood on the steps of the Cuyahoga County Justice Center and stared ahead as her attorneys railed against the stalled investigation into her son’s death. The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office has steadfastly refused to comment. Tamir’s body remains unburied, awaiting any more medical needs in the investigation. As of this week, more than 160 days have passed since Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice at Cudell Rec Center.

Since then, Samaria and her daughter, Tajai, moved out of their westside home (“she could no longer live next door to the killing field of her son,” as court documents explain). The two shuffled around homeless shelters in the Cleveland area for months. What little money they had disappeared as quickly as it came. As only “a very recent development,” one of Samaria’s attorneys tells Scene, she has now found a new home for for the family, a small place of her own.

But the Rice family is not OK.

After their words etched pain across TV screens and Twitter on Monday, a surge of fundraising brought in thousands of dollars ($28,428 as of press time). It’s not the first fundraising effort for the family, but organizers, including Samaria’s own civil rights attorneys, hope it will be more effective than previous attempts.

Shortly after Tamir’s death, Daily Kos columnist Shaun King helped organize a youcaring.com crowdfunding campaign that brought in more than $60,000 in a day. Within just a few hours, King says, he and others were bombarded with messages warning people away from the fundraiser. 

Soon, attorney Timothy Kucharski, at the time representing the family in their civil rights case, got in touch with the organizers and threatened to get the FBI involved and shut down the account, King says (note the call placed to FBI on Page 6 of the first document below). But the money had been collected.

“I’m thinking, ‘What planet am I living on? What world have I stepped into?’” King tells Scene. The money was immediately tied up in the court-controlled Charter One estate account. Samaria has been able to access it only in small withdrawals here and there. Much of the money has gone to pay Kucharski and fellow civil rights attorney David Malik — thousands of dollars in legal fees. Calls placed to the two attorneys this week were not returned as of Tuesday morning.

Kucharski and Malik initially filed the wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the Rice family (unbeknownst to Samaria, according to federal court documents, although that point has been contested heavily by both sides). Shortly, though, the family began working with attorneys Benjamin Crump and Walter Madison, who are reportedly working the case pro bono. Kucharski and Malik released themselves from the case and have since applied for thousands of dollars from the estate. The motions, filed by fiduciary Elizabeth Goodwin for “costs incurred and work performed” on a case that has yet to produce any tangible results, have been approved by Judge Anthony Russo.

“This money was meant to help the family with their needs,” King says. “They were so determined to collect the fees that they collected them from a lady who was homeless and struggling. There’s no way you look at it where that’s not ugly.” By now, according to probate court documents, the attorney fees have totaled $23,721.94.

In December, the sum of the estate of Tamir Rice was listed as $57,817.23. Every penny of that was money collected from the Internet fundraising effort earlier that month, according to Goodwin.

Right before attorney Walter Madison spoke with Scene yesterday, he spoke with Samaria Rice over the phone. He said that much of the time was spent listening to her “tears of joy” as this week’s fundraising attempt topped $20,000 and kept growing.

But the Rice family is not OK.

***

Embedded below are three documents — the first being a Jan. 5 application for attorney fees detailing specific legal costs, the second being Judge Anthony Russo's order approving the fees in March, and the third being a Dec. 19 report of the estate of Tamir Rice.

Jan. 5, 2015, Attorney Fees Filing — Estate of Tamir Rice



Judge Anthony Russo Order Approving Attorney Fees



Inventory of Estate of Tamir Rice


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