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Vote to Retain Disputed President

March 2, 1987

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Leaders of the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights organization have voted to retain Antonia Hernandez as president and chief counsel, resolving a power struggle brought on by her firing last month.

The board of directors of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund voted 18-14 Saturday to retain Ms. Hernandez, said Alicia Maldonado, Los Angeles media coordinator.

″In what seems to be a vote of confidence, they also voted (21-4) to retain her through April of 1988. Normally the term runs from April to April,″ Ms. Maldonado said. ″Rather than going through the whole process in a month-and-a-half, the board decided it would be better for the organization to do it this way.″

Ms. Hernandez and board Chairman Eric Serna made a brief press appearance after the meeting to say they considered the matter resolved.

″The vote is to show the public that the board and our staff are united to continue our work,″ said Ms. Hernandez.

Ms. Hernandez was fired by a vote of MALDEF’s executive committee in Dallas on Jan. 17, and former New Mexico Gov. Toney Anaya was named to replace her.

But Ms. Hernandez fought the ouster, contending that the 15-member executive committee lacks the power to replace the president. That can only be done by the full 34-member board of directors, she argued.

Ms. Hernandez and board vice chairman Frank Herrera sued the organization in a Texas state court, and both sides agreed Jan. 30 to submit the matter to the full board.

One of the reasons for her ouster, according to MALDEF lawyer Pete Torres of San Antonio, is an allegation she mishandled a class-action federal lawsuit against the San Antonio-based H.E. Butt grocery chain.

One of the plaintiffs in the 1984 suit has accused MALDEF and Ms. Hernandez of negotiating a settlement of the suit without his permission.

In a separate state lawsuit against MALDEF, Richard Arzola alleged that the organization through Ms. Hernandez agreed to settle for $150,000 in legal fees and $8,000 for each of the three plaintiffs. Arzola’s attorney, C. David Evans, said he is continuing to press the original suit against the grocery chain.