December 18, 2012 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Attorney says invalidating Stein Club election would violate bylaws
Martin Garcia, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Martin Garcia, newly-elected president of the Stein Club. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

An attorney representing Martin Garcia, the president-elect of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, said a proposal by several club members to invalidate Garcia’s election and the election of two other officers aligned with Garcia would “flagrantly” violate the club’s bylaws.

Joseph E. Sandler, former general counsel to the Democratic National Committee, said in a Dec. 17 letter to Stein Club members that a call to overturn the election of Garcia and the two other officers by disqualifying 17 people who voted in the club’s Dec. 3 election would be a “breach of contract.”

He said a legal opinion by Donald Dinan, an attorney for the D.C. Democratic State Committee, whom the Stein Club’s current officers consulted about the election, incorrectly interpreted the bylaws.

Dinan stated in a Dec. 12 memorandum that the votes by 17 people could be invalidated if the addresses they gave were not correct or if it could be shown they did not qualify for the special reduced membership fee of $15 under which they joined the club in the week prior to the election.

Under club rules, eligibility for the special membership is restricted to students, senior citizens, and people with a “limited income.”

Dinan noted that the 17 votes cast by people whose membership is now under question is greater than the two to seven-vote margin in which Garcia and the other two officer candidates won the election. He said that since the vote was conducted by secret ballot, there is no way to determine which candidates received votes by a potentially disqualified member.

Thus Dinan concluded that if the Stein Club membership decides at the special meeting set for Wednesday night to disqualify a number of new members that exceeds the margin of victory for the three officers, the club has the authority to invalidate the election and call a new election.

Sandler, however, argues that the club’s bylaws do not provide any residency requirements for members and do not define “limited income” or whether a “student” should be full-time, part-time, or someone enrolled in a trade school rather than a college.

In addition, Sandler states in his letter, “The Dinan Memorandum… simply does not set forth any remotely reliable facts that would indicate that any of the 17 new members whose votes are being questioned were other than legitimate, dues-paying members of the Stein Club, under the Bylaws and Standing Rules of Procedure, at the time of the election.”

He said the club’s current officers and members should know that the club “is not free to ignore its own bylaws, or to make up new rules not found in the bylaws, to the detriment of certain members, whenever it seems convenient to do so.”

Dinan told the Blade that his memorandum was not a fact finding document and it was up to the club’s officers or members to make any determination on whether the 17 new members should be disqualified based on “irregularities” over their residential address or special membership qualification.

Sandler noted that Dinan cited specific claims of problems associated with the new members’ addresses and special membership status brought to Dinan’s attention by the club’s current officers. None of the issues about membership status raised could be grounds for disqualifying a member under the bylaws.

Sandler suggested in his letter that Garcia and the other two candidates who won election to the club’s vice presidential posts – Angela Peoples and Vincent Villano – would have grounds to take legal action against the club if their elections are overturned.

“[I]t is Mr. Garcia’s position that any decision to invalidate the December 3 election and/or to hold another election would be a flagrant violation by the Stein Club of its own bylaws, a violation that obviously directly injures Mr. Garcia, and that would constitute action ultra vires and in breach of contract,” he says in his letter.

“Ultra vires” is a Latin term used to say a corporation or entity went “beyond the powers” or authority they have to take a certain action, according to BusinessDictinary.com.

Garcia told the Blade on Tuesday that he and the other new officers have no intention of taking legal action against the club.

“That would not be beneficial to anyone involved in the club,” he said. “Our hope is to build unity and move forward with greater participation by folks who haven’t been involved.”

“After reading Mr. Sandler’s memo, I am more convinced that this special meeting is an attempt to push new members out of the election process,” Garcia said in a statement on Tuesday. “The Stein Club founders stood against the disenfranchisement of LGBT people, and I believe that, when presented with all the information, today’s Stein members will stand together at the special meeting and vote to move us forward as a united organization.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

3 Comments
  • So. the Stein Club members have no legal options, other than to allow the election to stand. Thank you, Mr. Garcia, for once again reminding the club members that their voices and opinions are irrelevant. We will move forward united.

  • “I’ll show you mine, since you showed me yours.” (Referring to lawyers, of course.)

    But seriously, how stupid do they think rank and file LGBT Democratic voters are? Do they think we’re simply going to forget about this charade?

    Who are these people? What do they plan to do for DC’s LGBT residents? What are they going to do about the rise in brutal hate crimes under Gray’s Chief of Police? Provide more lip service and photo-ops?

    How do we know that they are not simply power-hungry political hacks seeking more hollow LGBT titles and jobs in the increasingly dubious Gray Administration? And in return for what? Silence while more LGBT people die or have their jaws shattered?

    Were they elected in an open DEMOCRATIC process? Did they proclaim their candidacies well in advance– in an honest and forthright manner? Did they seriously seek the votes of Stein Club members through customary communications and open campaigning? Did they have the common decency to seriously seek to persuade Stein members to their positions and plans?

    Didn’t they just skulk around and operate surreptitiously like political thieves in the night? It appears that they intentionally gamed the system. And that just looks terrible to Democrats who care about Democratic Party values and fair election processes.

    Why on earth would LGBT Democrats of good conscience want to “unite” behind the dishonor and dirty politics they have brought to a once great LGBT political institution?

    if this be the new regime at Stein, they’ve got a lot to prove to LGBT Democrats.

  • Did Mayor Gray’s shadow campaign pay for their memberships?

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