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Lawyers fight for Cox's $1M TV show prize
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ATLANTA - A bankruptcy lawyer is fighting to get control of $1 million that the state's top educator won on a game show and planned to give to schools for deaf and blind students.

Georgia Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox had announced she was giving the money she received from her August appearance on Fox's "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?" to three public schools for the deaf and blind.

But the superintendent and her husband filed for bankruptcy Nov. 17, claiming $3.5 million in debt, and the bankruptcy trustee is demanding the prize money. He says it's part of Cox's personal income.

"I think the underlying documents show it was her money and she simply elected to give it to charity," said Alex Teel, who represents Newnan-based bankruptcy trustee Gary Brown.

The trustee and the state sent letters to Fox Broadcasting Co. earlier this month, each demanding the money.

Russ Willard, spokesman for Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker, said the state believes the money was always intended for the schools and never belonged to Cox.

"The state's position is Ms. Cox was only on the program in her capacity as state schools superintendent - that she was on a program designed to win money for charities and she would not have been invited to program if she was not playing for a charitable purpose," Willard said. "Any monies won while on that program are to go to her designated charitable interest, which are the schools."

Fox has said it will not relinquish the prize money until the state and the trustee agree who is the rightful owner. If no agreement is reached, Fox will go to court to seek the answer, according to a July 15 letter to the state from Anatole Klebanow, vice president for legal affairs at Fox.

Teel said he is trying to determine if the bankruptcy trustee should sue to recover the money or try to work out an agreement with the state.

Cox said last fall she and her husband, John, decided to file for bankruptcy because of losses incurred in his home building business.

Cox declined comment on the situation Wednesday, but her office issued a statement on her behalf.

"The superintendent has made it clear that she went on '5th Grader' as the State Superintendent of Schools and always intended to give the money to the state schools," spokesman Dana Tofig wrote in an e-mail. "She is determined to see that all of the money will end up being used as she expected - to enhance the educational experience for students at the Georgia Academy for the Blind, the Georgia School for the Deaf and the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf."

Lee Shiver, executive director for the Georgia School for the Deaf in Cave Spring, said he had planned to use the money to start a foundation for the 164-year-old school, the only public residential school for deaf students in the state. The foundation would support college scholarships for students who graduate from the school, he said.

"I'm really glad we did that, because if we had counted on it or planned to use in our budget, we could be really hurting right now, more so than we already are," he said.

Officials with the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf and the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon could not immediately be reached for comment.


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