Monday, January 25, 2010

RPLAC dispute escalates into legal battle

Several months ago, I wrote a small article on the Mayor Sam blog about a power struggle that had occurred in the Republican Party of Los Angeles County. I had mistakenly labeled it as a fight between Conservatives and Moderates. However, it was actually just a power struggle between two factions of the party. Ideology never was a part of the discussion.

The dispute all started on May 14th, 2009 at the RPLAC meeting. A faction of the County Party led by Jane Barnett and Gary Aminoff had decided that the current leadership of RPLAC was not getting the job done. They called for a strange motion at the meeting, called "vacate the Chair", which meant that they were asking those in attendance to immediately vote out of power Chairman Glen Forsch and his entire board. The motion passed, but not without great argumentation and vocalized displeasure by some. Due to the heated nature of the fracas, Chairman Glen Forsch and First Vice Chairman Lydia Gutierrez felt compelled to step down from their positions. Then the faction led by Jane Barnett and Gary Aminoff called for immediate new elections and new officers were elected at the meeting by a majority vote.

The following new officers took control of RPLAC: Jane Barnett - Chairman, Gary Aminoff - First Vice Chairman, John Cozza - Second Vice Chairman, Alex Burrola - Secretary, Davina Keiser - Assistant Secretary, Leonard Lanzi - Treasurer, Gwen Patrick, Assistant Treasurer.

One of the previous Board members, Second Vice Chairman Robert Vaughn, stated that he had never resigned and that the elections were improper and illegal. Vaughn has gone on from this event to state that according to technical rules, that he is the new Chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles. He continues to state this to this day, saying that he "can't be bullied, bribed, or intimidated." Vaughn and his supporters have broken away from the results of that RPLAC meeting and formed an alternative RPLAC organization, even going so far as to create a website with very strong similarities to the RPLAC site that previously existed.

Now, after months of bickering between the two sides, the dispute has escalated into a legal matter.
The faction led by Robert Vaughn is suing the other faction led by Jane Barnett for control of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County. As you can see from the papers above, Gary Aminoff, John Cozza, Leonard Lanzi, Alex Burrola, and Davina Keiser are all named in the lawsuit.

I have obtained a copy of the lawsuit, and I will share some of the details here at TJR.

1) Robert Vaughn claims to be the rightful Chairman of RPLAC by law.
2) Vaughns attorneys list some of the former board members as plaintiffs, minus Glen Forsch and Lydia Gutierrez, who, I assume, asked to stay out of this battle.
3) Vaughn asks for control of RPLAC and all funds and bank accounts and assets.
4) There is a lot of technical jargon about election codes, Central Committees, and the RPLAC Bylaws.
5) A long discussion of how what happened on May 14th did not conform to technical bylaw rules.
6) Line 28, page 8 "This lawsuit is filed for the purpose of ousting the coup plotters and participants from their wrongfully held officer positions; enjoining the wrongdoers from carrying out any further acts under the color of their improper status as putative RPLAC officers, and restoring full and unfettered management and control of RPLAC to the valid and legitimate Chairman and Executive Committee."
7)Surprisingly, the lawsuit lists Lydia Gutierrez as one of the "coup plotters", but I'm not so sure about that. Why would she join an attempt to put herself out of power?
8) Page 12 line 3 "The May 14th 2009 'elections' during the adjourned and immediately reconvened meeting were carried out in Communist Russia style, and are entirely ineffective. Indeed, the entire coup process violated the RPLAC Bylaw which describes in specific terms the "Notice Requirement" for a Central Committee meeting at the Article VI Section 2.b.
9) A long technical section about how and why officers may be removed.
10) Doug Boyd and Linda Boyd receive harsh criticism for their behavior on Dec 6, 2008 where they left a meeting rather than face an election defeat.
11) Page 17 and 18 of the lawsuit contain very harsh words of criticism of Gary Aminoff
12) Page 20 Robert Vaughn accuses Gary Aminoff and Val Cymbal of slandering him.
13) Pages 24-28 are a blow-by-blow account of the meeting on May 14th.
14) Pages 29-33 a long discussion of how Parlimentary procedures were improper or not followed.
15) Plaintiffs end by asking for control of RPLAC and all assets and bank accounts.

Whew. Heavy stuff.

Where do I stand on all this? I'm caught in the middle of the crossfire, that's for sure.

I like Jane Barnett and Gary Aminoff on a personal level and think they are doing good things with the party. I think Jane is a great leader and has a personal leadership style that is to be admired.

However, I don't think the events of May 14th were proper. You can't just hold immediate elections without proper notice beforehand. Vaughn and his supporters will get all technical about the details but the dispute boils down to one specific fact: The members of RPLAC were unhappy with the leadership and decided to make a change. As a private organization, they have every right to call new elections or replace leaders they are unhappy with. However, as professionals, these changes need to be carried out under much different circumstances.

As a Conservative, you always want to be concerned about the freedom and liberty of others. How did this May 14th meeting increase or support the freedom of others? It didn't. Only certain members knew what was going to happen. The election infringed on the freedom of other members to be involved in the process. There may have been others who wanted to run for positions, but were not given that chance because they never knew an election was going to take place that night. I guess I was one of the lucky ones, because I knew in advance what was going to happen at that meeting and exactly who was going to be elected. I knew it would be a ugly scene, so I didn't attend that meeting. It still bothers me that many people were left out of the loop.

Later on, I saw the destructive effect of this power struggle, and tried to interject myself into the dispute in order to seek peace. As a former candidate for Mayor, I was known to most in the Party.

I spent a lot of time and effort behind the scenes contacting Robert Vaughn, Jane Barnett and Gary Aminoff. I tried to get all the parties to come to the table because I felt the dispute was headed in an unhealthy direction with a no-win outcome for all involved. I suggested to Jane that new elections might be the solution. Jane said that had been offered to Vaughn and he had refused them. Vaughn disputes this statement and says new elections were never offered. So there is clearly some miscommunication there.

I suggested a moderation committee to end the dispute, but in the long run, Vaughn, Barnett, and Aminoff were all too firmly entrenched in their beliefs that they were correct. Instead of coming to the table for private negotiations, they are now headed for the courtroom.

And as an extra nice reward for my efforts, I got fired from my position as Public Relations Spokesman for Westside Republicans. Chairman Robert Pedersen felt I was "meddling" in an issue where he had chosen to take sides with Jane and Gary and he also felt that I was putting our very new groups charter in danger by my actions. I understand his choices, but I don't agree with them.

I am not taking sides with either group, but I feel the technical infractions of the rules with a "sudden election" need to be addressed. Maybe the solution is a new election with plenty of notice. Every faction can bring their big guns to the big fight and when the smoke clears, we will see who really has support and who is in charge.

Heading to the courtroom is destructive and makes all RPLAC leaders look bad.
It is a no-win situation. If the forces led by Vaughn win the courtroom battle, there will be a self-destruction at RPLAC as many members will walk away and form an alternative organization. If the forces led by Jane Barnett win the legal battle, there will be people who are permanently disenfranchised and will be considered pariahs in any future political activities. Already the new leadership at RPLAC is coming dangerous close to appearing to be out of control. They way they kicked Jose Aguilar and Robert Vaughn out of the party at a later meeting was nothing but the new leaders being spiteful and vindictive. I have not attended any RPLAC meetings since that one, where Jose Aguilar and Robert Vaughn were excommunicated as if it were some type of modern-day witch hunt. This is not the way a professional organization can be run and still survive with any semblance of respect or credibility.

As Jose Aguilar said to me recently, "If we allow this mob rule mentality to create a precedent, without following the bylaws, then every meeting becomes a free-for-all and there is no longer any adherence to the bylaws, which specify two year terms."

He has a point there.
I urge both sides to return to negotiation and an out of court settlement.
It is in the best interests of all.

I am now a pariah in my own party and left wandering in the political wasteland.
But I don't regret it.
I stood up for the rights of others.

And I always will.