Tuesday, May 16, 2017
LACBA Sued Over Election-Results Nullification
By a MetNews Staff Writer
SUSAN J. BOOTH
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge will decide, possibly Monday, if the March 22 results in the County Bar’s annual election of officers and trustees will stand, or if a new election, in progress, is to be consummated.
Six members of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, including two current officers and a past president, yesterday brought suit against the organization under Corporations Code §7616, which provides that the court may “determine the validity of any election” conducted by a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation, such as LACBA. The statute requires that a hearing be held “within five days” of filing the complaint “unless for good cause shown a later date is fixed.”
The case was assigned to Department 82, where Judge Mary H. Strobel normally presides.
Susan J. Booth, a partner in Holland & Knight, is the lead plaintiff. She is chair of LACBA’s Real Property Section and was chosen by the Nominating Committee on Feb. 27 for a spot on the Board of Trustees.
Neither she nor any of the other 11 candidates nominated by the committee drew opposition, which could have occurred by a competitor filing a nominating petition by the March 22 deadline. A LACBA spokesperson announced on March 23 that no election would be held.
Stevens Distributes Article
However, on the night of March 22, at the monthly Board of Trustees meeting, LACBA President Margaret Stevens, in a closed session, drew attention to an article in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise that appeared March 1, two days after the Nominating Committee had concluded its work. The article reported that Immediate Past President Paul Kiesel (who, along with the president and president-elect is, under the bylaws, automatically a member of the Nominating Committee) had lobbied, unsuccessfully, for nomination of the 2015-16 senior vice president, Michael Lindsey, for president-elect.
Lindsey ran for that post last year and lost to Michael E. Meyer.
Stevens and other members of the Nominating Committee were recused; an estimated 11 non-recused members of the 28-member board conferred and appointed a three-person task force to look into leaks of information; non-recused members, in executive session, at an April 26 meeting, voted to invalidate the election results because of lobbying and breaches of confidentiality; and a second election was set in motion.
Terms of office are to begin on July 1.
Letter From Kabateck
A newly constituted nominating committee was scheduled to meet last night. In advance of that meeting, Brian S. Kabateck, who was previously declared to have been elected president-elect, sent a letter to Meyer and Stevens, with a copy to the Board of Trustees, saying, in part:
“We all need to heal the LACBA. If you re-elect the March unopposed slate of officers and trustees, you immediately end the discussion about hijacked elections. You allow us to immediately focus on the future. Throwing out that slate and electing a different leadership group will further damage the reputation of the LACBA, undermine that group’s ability to lead, and cause further scrutiny of your operations. Instead of moving forward you will move backwards.”
Advice in that letter for changes in LACBA’s procedures appear on page below.
As of press time yesterday, there was no word as to any action having been taken by the committee. In the event it did renominate the candidates who were elected in March, the legal proceeding instituted yesterday would not be rendered moot because additional candidates could enter the arena by filing nominating petitions.
Objective of Complaint
The complaint, filed yesterday by Joel A. Goldman of Clark & Trevithick, declares:
“Plaintiffs bring this action to have the results of the original election confirmed, to have the new election proceedings enjoined and invalidated, and to declare the rights and duties of the parties under California law and LACBA’s Bylaws.”
Plaintiffs, along with Booth, are LACBA Senior Vice President Philip H. Lam, whose March 22 election as vice president is in dispute; Vice President Tamila C. Jensen, seeking to establish the validity of her election as senior vice president; Trustees William L. Winslow and Edwin C. Summers III, who, according to the complaint, were forcibly recused “on grounds not specified in or permitted under LACBA’s Bylaws”; and Harry L. Hathaway, a former president of LACBA and co-founder of the Senior Lawyers Section.
Although a particular harm to Hathaway is not alleged, §7616 confers standing on “any person who had the right to vote in the election at issue,” and that right, on the part of Hathaway, is alleged.
The complaint seeks, pursuant to §7616, a determination that the Nominating Committee’s nominees were, lawfully, elected, and, in a separate cause of action, declaratory relief to that effect.
It also seeks a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, and a permanent injunction to bar “any action to nullify or invalidate the 2017 Election” or conduct a new election.
LACBA was notified yesterday morning of the imminency of the filing of the action.
It responded to a request for comment by providing this statement by Clark Brown, its general counsel and chief administrative officer:
“Recently, Susan Booth had reached out with an olive branch to Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the Chair of the non-recused Board of Trustees, President Margaret P. Stevens, and President-Elect Michael Meyer, asking to work through the issues related to the Board’s decision on April 26 to re-convene the Nominating Committee due to a breach of its confidentiality. We were very appreciative of this gesture, and received an email as recently as last night to set up a meeting with her, so we were very surprised to hear of her intended lawsuit today.”
“President Stevens’ asked Ms. Booth’s attorney if she could speak with her, but did not receive a response. We have seen how destructive the lawsuits with the State Bar of California were, and are hopeful that Ms. Booth will still meet with us to resolve her concerns.”
Initial Committee’s Nominees
Those whose election the complaint seeks to have confirmed by the court are:
President-Elect: Brian S. Kabateck
Senior Vice President: Tamila C. Jensen
Vice President: Philip H. Lam
Susan J. Booth
Jennifer W. Leland
LACBA Section Trustees:
Matthew W. McMurtrey
Kevin L. Vick
Firoozeh (Faye) Nia
Michael R. Sohigian
Kabateck Urges Changes
Trial lawyer Brian S. Kabateck, in an election which has been declared to be nullified, was chosen as 2017-18 president-elect of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. In a letter yesterday to the current president and president-elect, he made these suggestions for eight changes in how LACBA operates:
1. Stop shrouding your actions in secrecy. It may make sense to leadership, but the members of the LACBA who have trusted you with their hard earned dollars in the form of their membership fees, deserve to know everything that is going on.
2. Please don’t make volunteer trustees and officers sign confidentiality pledges as a condition of freely giving their time.
3. Welcome all members of this organization to your meetings and hear their voices.
4. Absent matters of attorney-client communications, personnel matters and HIPAA issues, never prevent attendees from discussing what happens in the LACBA.
5. Invite the press to your events and meetings. They are not the enemy.
6. Don’t preclude volunteer leadership from freely expressing their feelings and opinions to the press.
7. Extend an olive branch to the dissident members of the council of sections and welcome them as a detente of sorts as soon as possible.
8. Ask all the former presidents of the LACBA for their counsel and advice.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company