Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Secret Task Force Produces Secret Report; Secret Committee Makes Nominations
By ROGER M. GRACE
That was one of the principal blemishes on the administration of Paul Kiesel as president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association in 2015-16. It is now permeating a second election that has been called by a “Rump Board”—as it’s been aptly described by one of the sections—although an election of officers and trustees was already completed as of 5 p.m. on March 22. That was the deadline, under the bylaws, for filing nominating petitions for offices; none was filed; under the bylaws, the Nominating Committee’s Feb. 27 choices were elected.
Those election results have been set aside (purportedly) by a minority of the Board of Trustees based on pretext and blarney…and while acting in secrecy. Fittingly, their action is being challenged in court.
What is now transpiring reflects not only a quest for secrecy, but a thirst for power, a display of arrogance, and a willingness to play other than by the rules.
There was secrecy under the Kiesel Regime to an unthinkable extent.
A member of the association could not obtain a copy of the bylaws from LACBA Central.
Even the barest of financial information could not be pried from the organization’s hierarchy. LACBA Past President John Carson asked for some figures on behalf of the Senior Lawyers Section, while serving as its chair, and was told “no” by then-Senior Vice President and Treasurer Michael Lindsey. He hadn’t demonstrated a “need,” Lindsey is reported to have said.
Agendas for the Board of Trustees meetings would be issued to trustees only a day or so before the meetings, and courtesy copies were provided to section leaders—but without the attachments, so that it was a mystery what the agenda items concerned.
Under mounting pressure, Kiesel assured section leaders during a Nov. 17, 2015 teleconference that information on section finances would be provided. Lindsey interjected that it would be “tremendously damaging” if sections saw information relating to other sections, and Kiesel concurred, agreeing to supply information to sections on their own finances, only—and then failed to do even that.
Secrecy is one of the prime reasons why a reform movement came about in late 2015. Last year, unlike this year, signatures were obtained on nominating petitions, and the first contested election in a quarter of a century took place. All three officer positions were won by challengers to the 2016 Nominating Committee’s candidates, and all of the five trustee spots for which there was a contest were taken by the reformers. (Four seats were uncontested).
In a ballot statement, Michael E. Meyer, the reform candidate for president-elect, set forth five goals. The second of them—behind a pledge to “restore the LACBA to financial stability”—was to “create total transparency as to how all of the decisions are made and implemented.”
Meyer won out over Lindsey by a vote of 1,273 to 448.
There was a mandate.
Margaret Stevens, the president-elect under Kiesel—who is not known to have spoken a word in opposition to the clandestine manner in which the leadership was conducting the affairs of the association—automatically became 2016-2017 president, under the bylaws. (The reformers did not attempt to put up a candidate against Stevens; they conducted their coup in conformity with the bylaws, rather than finding ways to try to skirt them, as is being done now by a band of connivers.)
Stevens has been prodded, since automatically assuming the presidency last July 1, into going along with some reforms, such as posting the bylaws on the Internet. But she has not forgotten the training she received from the mischievous master of Machiavellian machinations, Kiesel.
It has been learned from multiple sources that it was Stevens who set in motion the series of events leading to this year’s purported nullification of the election results. At the Board of Trustees’ March 22 meeting, after it had gone into executive session, she passed out copies of a MetNews article that appeared on March 1. It reported that Kiesel had been lobbying, unsuccessfully, for the nomination of Lindsey as president-elect over Meyer’s choice, Brian Kabateck. (The Daily Journal parroted that information two days later.)
A lawyer was there to guide those trustees who dealt with the matter Stevens brought up.
Stevens—who had been on the Nominating Committee—left. Others who had been on the Nominating Committee were caused to depart, including President-Elect Meyer. So was my wife, Jo-Ann, a trustee who was not on that committee (but being a co-publisher of the MetNews was enough to render her a persona non grata).
About 11 members of the 28-member board remained. They appointed a three-person task force to look into the matter of possible “leaks” from the Nominating Committee.
Identities of the members of the task force are secret.
They produced a report. Only the non-recused trustees can see it. It is, otherwise, secret.
But, it is inferable, that it tells of vile deeds. Leaks! Lobbying!
“My gracious, the election must be set aside,” the connivers cried.
And they were in the majority at the April 26 executive session, attended by fewer than the original 11 “non-recused” trustees. The precise number in attendance is secret. The breakdown of votes is secret.
A new nominating committee was selected, by secret means, and was scheduled to meet last night. The membership of the committee is secret.
Who knows? Maybe they were blindfolded, so they wouldn’t know each other’s identities.
Beyond the matter of secrecy, there looms a concern over the brazenness of what has been done.
There is nothing in the bylaws, express or implied, authorizing a second election.
There are, however, provisions as to the dates when the various steps in the election are to be taken—and those dates are passed. Yet (notwithstanding that the election is now completed), new deadlines have been conjured up.
For example, the bylaws set a March 22 deadline for filing nominating petitions. Yet, by proclamation, there is a new deadline of June 15. The Articles of Incorporation declare that the association is to be governed by the articles and bylaws, not by purportedly superseding proclamations.
By whom was the proclamation made? The Elections Committee—or what is purported to be the Elections Committee.
That body, under the bylaws, makes rules for elections and decides any election disputes—being confined, necessarily, by express provisions of the bylaws, such as dates when events are to occur.
And who are the members of this powerful committee? Art. VII, §5 says:
“The Elections Committee shall consist of the President, President-Elect and Immediate Past President.”
That’s Stevens, Meyer, and Kiesel.
Oh, but they’re deemed to be “recused.” Does this justify the establishment of an elections committee comprised of persons other than those holding the posts specified in the bylaws?
There is no procedure in the bylaws for substitute members of the committee. This situation is apt to bring to mind, to those of us who can recall it, the situation in 1979 when all members of the California Supreme Court were under investigation by the Commission on Judicial Performance in connection with a “leak”; a justice of the court, Stanley Mosk, sought a writ in connection with a subpoena to testify in a public proceeding; and Chief Justice Rose Bird assigned seven Court of Appeal justices to comprise a Supreme Court panel. That panel held that under the “rule of necessity,” Bird acted properly in summoning them.
In that situation, however, all members of the court were presently under investigation in the so-called “Tannergate” affair. Here, by contrast, even if there was cause to investigate members of the Nominating Committee to determine if any of them disclosed information about Kiesel’s lobbying, and if a basis for recusal of Nominating Committee members existed on March 22, there is no conceivable continuing basis for recusals.
The investigation by the secret task force took place; its secret report has been delivered, albeit only to the non-recused few. The witch hunt which gave rise to the recusals has ended, and no supposed witches have been expelled from LACBA, barred from office, or hanged.
Assuming that there is cause for this year’s Election’s Committee still to exist, after the conclusion of the election on March 22—which plainly there is not—there would be no apparent cause for the expulsion of Stevens, Meyer or Kiesel from that committee…and if there is such cause, it ought to be divulged.
Anyway, the “rump” board has substituted for Stevens, Meyer, and Kiesel, as the members of the Elections Committee, the “non-recused” members of the Executive Committee—that is, the officers other than those three, or Jensen or Lam who are candidates, or Assistant Vice President Roxanne Wilson, who was a member of the Nominating Committee.
So who do we have making election rules, and primed to decide any election controversies?
They are Treasurer Duncan W. Crabtree-Ireland, appointed by Stevens; Assistant Vice Presidents Sheri Bluebond and Annaluisa-Padilla, appointed by Stevens; Barristers President Damon A. Thayer, and Barristers President-Elect Mariana Aroditis, the latter being employed by Kiesel in his law office.
What’s wrong with this picture?
Crabtree-Ireland is the designated spokesperson for LACBA with respect to the new election, given that Stevens, Meyer, Kiesel, Jensen, Lam and Wilson are disqualified. A gag order has been imposed on all the trustees but him.
To digress for a moment, just why Crabtree-Ireland takes precedence over the assistant vice presidents is not clear. Not only is he the spokesperson, it was he, not either of them, who presided over the behind-black-curtains April 26 session at which the vote was taken to hold a new election. Art. V, §5 of the bylaws provides: “The Elective Officers of the Association, the Assistant Vice Presidents, the Treasurer, the President and President-Elect of the Barristers, shall constitute the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees.” The assistant vice presidents are mentioned before the treasurer, at least hinting at higher status.
Crabtree-Ireland declared in a letter-to-the-editor published yesterday by the
Daily Journal that “[t]he Los Angeles Legal community can be proud that its
professional nonprofit association acted swiftly
and decisively to protect the integrity and reputation of its election process.”
To the contrary, the Los Angeles legal community should be ashamed that its professional nonprofit association acted rashly and ill-advisedly by engaging in skullduggery to satisfy the desires of persons dissatisfied with the election outcome.
It is significant that Crabtree-Ireland makes no effort to explain what no one has been able to do: just how any breaches of confidentiality requirements had any impact on the election outcome.
In a statement on the LACBA website, Crabtree-Ireland attempts to rationalize what has occurred by saying that holding a second election “will ensure next year’s Officers and Trustees can take office without any cloud on the legitimacy of their election.”
No cloud exists on the legitimacy of the election of Kabateck as president-elect, Jensen as senior vice president, Lam as vice president, or the election of the nine trustees.
There were no allegations of ballot box stuffing, lying about meeting eligibility requirements, or other forms of cheating. The candidates were nominated by the Nominating Committee; nobody filed a nominating petition to run for the seats for which they were nominated; they were, under the bylaws, elected.
The fact that there might have been a leak from someone on the Nominating Committee about Kiesel’s lobbying created no cloud on anyone’s entitlement to office. Our March 1 report came two days after work of that committee was concluded; it could not have affected the decision of the Nominating Committee.
Lobbying did occur. What of it? It did not even arguably so infect, as to invalidate, the election. Lobbying is not barred by the bylaws.
There is a legitimate interest in the fact of the lobbying to the extent that it reflects Kiesel’s arrogance in trying to manipulate a return to power of Lindsey, who had been soundly repudiated by bar members in the election last year, and had disserviced the organization. It was Lindsey who had been Kiesel’s partner in shielding from members—until the reformers entered the picture and obtained limited disclosures from LACBA and secured filings from the IRS—that spending practices were putting LACBA on a path to bankruptcy. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of dues money were being diverted to charitable projects favored by Kiesel at a time when LACBA was eating up its reserves, operating at a loss of about $1 million a year.
There are, in fact, clouds over LACBA—but not over “the legitimacy” of the election of any of those who, as of March 22, gained entitlement to take office on July 1.
Clouds, dark ones, do hang over the heads of Stevens and her co-conspirators in light of their effort to thwart the legitimate election process that occurred.
Her accomplices include Clark Brown, the outgoing chief counsel/CAO, who is a co-temporary CEO, in the aftermath of Sally Suchil departing her post as CEO with a $350,289 golden handshake. Brown is himself slated to leave LACBA’s employ on June 2—and good riddance. It is not known whether he, too, is being paid handsomely to scadaddle.
Crabtree-Ireland is a culprit in the affair. So are others.
There is now litigation. Meyer, who is to take office as president on July 1, doesn’t know for certain who his co-officers will be and is inhibited in formulating plans.
With all the uncertainly, no installation dinner—which generally takes place in June—has been announced. (The election timetable this year had been set earlier than usual to allow extra time for arranging the dinner.)
If there are plans for it, the date, time and place are, consistent with current practices, secret.
Copyright 2017, Metropolitan News Company