Judge Denies Chavis Request for Reinstatement at NAACP
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A judge today refused to reinstate Benjamin Chavis Jr. as executive director of the NAACP, saying the ousted leader must wait for another judge to resolve his lawsuit seeking damages from his firing.
Declining to issue a temporary restraining order, Superior Court Judge Herbert Dixon said the court could not force the NAACP to take Chavis back any more than it could force Chavis to continue to work against his wishes.
Dixon said Chavis would have to wait for Superior Court Judge Richard Saltzman to resolve his lawsuit seeking damages from his firing last weekend.
A hearing before Saltzman is set for Sept. 2, but both Chavis and NAACP officials said they hoped to discuss an out-of-court settlement before then.
″All I’m asking for is for my civil rights to be respected by the NAACP,″ Chavis said after the 15-minute hearing. ″This has been a traumatic experience for my family. I would like for it to be resolved.″
Earl Shinhoster, the NAACP’s interim administrator, declined to comment directly on the ruling, saying only that the NAACP is ″stepping up and moving forward.″
Dennis Hayes, NAACP general counsel, said the civil rights group has always been willing to negotiate with Chavis. He said Chavis had had an opportunity to discuss a settlement Friday, the day before the board of directors voted to fire him.
″He did not avail himself of that opportunity,″ Hayes said. ″I think he didn’t understand that opportunity was available to him.″
Meanwhile, officials of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, struggling with growing debt and courting reluctant corporate donors, say the civil rights group wouldn’t be able to survive more of Chavis’ leadership.
″My God, the organization would be virtually destroyed,″ NAACP staff attorney Willie Abrams said after a court hearing Tuesday. ″Are there people who would give Dr. Chavis money? I don’t believe so.″
Chavis’ attorney, Abbey Hairston, said some members of the NAACP board of directors have unfairly painted Chavis as ″essentially, a crook.″
″The NAACP has a long history of survival,″ she said. ″But what will Dr. Chavis do?″
Board members voted 53-5 at a meeting Saturday to fire Chavis from the $200,000-a-year job he has held since 1993.
Board members complained Chavis ran up a $2.7 million deficit, didn’t tell them he used NAACP money to settle a $332,400 sex discrimination claim by former employee Mary E. Stansel and tried to move the NAACP way from its longstanding integrationist ideology.
NAACP attorney Lawrence Greenwald said Chavis failed to get written board permission before committing the group to a debt, as required by its constitution.
″When a board resoundingly speaks, the court should not intervene,″ Greenwald said.
Chavis filed suit Monday, arguing the NAACP denied him a hearing, besmirched his reputation and left him unemployed when his wife, Martha, is pregnant with twins.
NAACP lawyers asked Dixon to throw out Chavis’ lawsuit, saying it was filed in the wrong court system. D.C. Superior Court handles local litigation. The NAACP has its headquarters in Baltimore and was formed as a corporation in New York.
Chavis also contends that the NAACP failed to follow its own rules in dismissing him, Hairston said. It did not give Chavis formal notice that the board would meet about his future, and it did not properly record the vote, she said.
Hairston produced an affidavit from board member Larry Carter of Des Moines, Iowa, who said the board based Chavis’ firing on a variety of issues that were not on its agenda.