Three suits deny legitimacy of
Pacifica's national board
Originally published in Current, Oct. 30, 2000
By Steve Behrens
Out of the streets and into the courtroom, the campaign against Pacifica is fielding three lawsuits to unseat its present board and management. And if they don't win in court, the plaintiffs' routine discovery rights will at least give them broad access to the nonprofit's internal papers.
Three suits were filed in state Superior Court in Alameda County, Calif., though two were moved this month to federal court on Pacifica's motion. The suits make similar claims about the illegitimacy of the Pacifica national board's election procedures, but each is filed by a different class of plaintiff:
Local Advisory Board members: Adelson v. Pacifica Foundation was the first filed, in July 1999, by Los Angeles neurophysiologist David W. Adelson and 20 other members of the local boards repping each of Pacifica's five owned stations. Like the other two suits, this one contends that the LABs are more than advisory--they have the authority to appoint much of the national board. The state court declined to grant a preliminary injunction against Pacifica in June, but the case is still alive.
Listener-sponsors: People v. Pacifica Foundation was filed by a dozen Pacifica listeners and supporters led by Santa Rosa activist Carol Spooner. Using an unusual legal procedure, the plaintiffs asked the state attorney general to give them special "relator" status to sue the Pacifica board for breach of trust in operating a nonprofit. Attorney General Bill Lockyer agreed Sept. 14, and the plaintiffs filed suit the next day.
Two national board members: In Robinson v. Pacifica Foundation, filed Sept. 19, board members Rob Robinson, of Washington, D.C., and Rabbi Aaron Kriegel, of Tarzana, Calif., are suing everyone else on the national board. They and four other members make up a dissident minority on the 18-member board.
In addition, the radio chain faces suits filed by dismissed employees Nicole Sawaya, former manager of Berkeley's KPFA, and longtime Pacifica journalist Larry Bensky. Sawaya could not be reached for comment. Bensky says his breach of contract suit is pending.
Like the rest of the long-running conflict, the suits may become a war of attrition. Plaintiffs already have spent at least $100,000, says Bay Area LAB leader Sherry Gendelman, and are raising funds to stay in the game. Pacifica actions are delaying the cases. Depositions in the Adelson case were to begin this month, but were cancelled by Pacifica.
The other two cases were sent to federal court by Pacifica, as was Bensky's earlier suit. (He'll try to take it back to state court in a hearing next week.)
"In essence, they're trying to gain control of the Pacifica Foundation, which is an FCC licensee, and that's a federal question, says the chain's Oakland attorney, Daniel Rapoport.
Kenneth N. Frucht, attorney for Robinson and Kriegel, contends that Pacifica is trying to divide the three cases and run up the plaintiffs' legal costs. He says the suit belongs in state court because it deals only with state laws.
Indeed, the suits are full of references to California corporation law. The listeners' suit argues that Pacifica has stopped recognizing the authority of the local boards to elect two directors apiece to the national board. (Five at-large directors were elected by the board itself.) Spooner says papers that filed with the FCC in the 1980s state that the local boards appoint members of the national board.
. To Current's home page . Earlier news: Local-national conflicts in Pacifica came to a head when firings by Pacifica's national management provoked street protests in Berkeley, April 1999. . Related news: Pacifica's internal troubles embroil its most popular show and host, Amy Goodman.
Web page posted Nov. 1, 2000
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