Kangaroo Court

THE POWER STRUGGLE that's been unfolding at the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union since March appears to be taking a prominent casualty: Executive Director Micheal Moore. The latest episode in the MCLU's boardroom drama concluded last week following a two-part meeting of the organization's personnel committee to hear complaints lodged against Moore by two board members.

No one from the committee will speak on the record about their conclusions, but according to two other MCLU board members who testified before the group, Moore is finished. "It has all the earmarks of a kangaroo court," according to First Amendment attorney and board member Mark Anfinson. "To think that there's any neutrality or detachment in the process is naive in the extreme. It was staged and predictable." Judith Cook, a family law attorney who also sits on the board, echoed the sentiment.

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Many believe the Moore proceeding had little to do with his job performance or the pursuit of civil liberties and a lot to do with ego, power politics, and the figure of Matthew Stark. Since 1967, Stark has ruled supreme over the Minnesota affiliate of the ACLU, serving as executive director from 1973 to 1986, and as its president from 1986 to 1995.

The controversial Stark resigned as MCLU president in March 1995 when it appeared that the board was prepared to oust him. But he mounted a comeback at a tumultuous board meeting in March 1996. Using a slick series of parliamentary moves, Stark and his supporters, who include new MCLU President Jules Beck, voted to expand board membership from 24 to 30 members, and quickly installed five new members sympathetic to the Beck/Stark axis.

It put into a distinct minority members of the so-called "reform faction" of the organization, who had pushed to expand the organization's narrow church/state legal focus and bring more diversity to the largely white, middle-aged, and male board. Five of them walked out of the March meeting in protest of the board-packing moves. At the time, board member David Schultz speculated, "Come June, we're going to see Micheal Moore out and some Matt Stark crony in as executive director."

Within weeks of the March board meeting, Beck appointed a personnel committee to hear complaints lodged against Moore by longtime board members Frank Zaragoza and Bob Bruno. The complaints involved incidents that occurred more than nine months ago during the reform group's brief control of the board. Zaragoza's complaint stemmed from an exchange in July 1995, when Moore allegedly told him he should become more active on the board or resign. Bruno claimed that last fall Moore waited several weeks before notifying him of complaints that Moore had received about Bruno's handling of an MCLU legal matter.

Both Zaragoza and Bruno are known as strong Stark loyalists. A majority of the eight committee members convened to hear the complaints are likewise Stark supporters. Over Micheal Moore's objection, the committee also included complainants Zaragoza and Bruno. In addition, Beck ignored Moore's request that the hearing conform to established ACLU guidelines--which call for outside mediators in such cases, and indicate that complainants should not serve on panels hearing their complaints. Moore was concerned enough to bring an attorney with him to the meetings on May 8 and 14.

Anfinson says the queries put to him about the Bruno situation were "absurdly staged questions. They weren't serious questions at all. They reflected nothing more than that the judgment had been made and they wanted to confirm their hypothesis."

According to Cook, "When [Stark's] group wants something to happen, there are strange ways to make it happen. They would have used anything as a catalyst to get rid of Micheal. He was too good."

When Moore, 46, was hired in 1994, he became the fifth executive director to step up to the task since Stark resigned in 1986. The attorney and former president of the North Carolina ACLU drew high marks from board members and others for the credibility he conferred on the organization. But like some of his predecessors, Moore began to butt heads with Stark on a consistent basis. "You didn't have to be overly perceptive to see that Matt and Mike had a deteriorating relationship," says Anfinson.

The committee's recommendations will be presented to the next full meeting of the board on June 1. Moore's supporters on the board concede that they lack the numbers to prevent the nonrenewal of Moore's contract, which expires in July. "The real suspense issue," says Anfinson, "now becomes, what are the dissenters going to do?" Earlier this week, according to board members, Moore was meeting with MCLU officials to work out a settlement of his contract. CP

 
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