LEGAL UPDATE

Anti-democratic moves to retain control
In February 2014, after years of mismanagement, a new board majority took power on the Pacifica National Board and began to bring the network back from the brink. They terminated former executive director Summer Reese, who reacted by using bolt cutters to break to break into the Pacifica offices with a handful of supporters, blocking national board members from even entering the premises. Her supporters, the so-called “Pacifica Directors for Good Governance,” sued the board majority.  On May 12, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ioana Petrou issued a wide-ranging 17-page decision that demolished each and every legal argument made by Reese’s supporters. The judge issued a court order telling Reese to leave.

The board members who sued were Janet Coleman (WBAI), Carolyn Birden (WBAI), Manijeh Saba (WBAI), Luzette King (WPFW), Richard Uzzell (KPFT), Kim Kaufman (KPFK), Janet Kobren (KPFA), Heather Gray (affiliate station) and Janis Lane-Ewert (affiliate station).

Reese using a bolt cutter to break into Pacifica's offices
Reese using a bolt cutter to break into Pacifica’s offices

“Their lawsuit is an anti-democratic power play,” said Brian Edwards-Tiekert, a KPFA staff representative on the Pacifica National Board. “The nine board members who signed on as plaintiffs lost a vote, and wanted the court to overturn it. They lost their majority, and wanted the court to give it back by purging their enemies. And then they filibustered meetings to try to prevent the majority from hiring attorneys to represent Pacifica,” he added.

For nearly two months, Reese’s supporters paralyzed Pacifica. They blocked the board’s officers from access to financial records, and threatened Pacifica employees with legal actions if they worked with the new board majority and officers. They claimed Reese was Pacifica’s “legitimate” executive director, leading some vendors to refuse to work with Pacifica. In a bid to keep paychecks coming to Reese, they nearly sabotaged payroll for all employees of the entire 5-station national network.

graphic-reese-for-webIn her decision, Judge Petrou found the situation at the Pacifica National Office “completely untenable” and ordered Reese to leave.

“I hope the plaintiffs will now drop their suit,” said Wilkinson. “Pacifica is a fragile institution that can ill afford the time and expense of litigation.” Over 800 listeners and staff have signed a petition demanding Reese go.

Secret contract revealed in court

Reese’s supporters had maintained that the board violated her employment contract by discharging her without cause. During a May 6 court hearing, a very different picture emerged: the Pacifica National Board had agreed on one contract, offered in November 2013, while Reese and three of her supporters on the board crafted an entirely different one in secret.

The agreement approved by Pacifica’s board in November 2013 required Reese to pass a background check and serve in a probationary status for six months.

But on January 30, 2014, it emerged, Reese signed a second contract whose existence the board did not even know about. Former Pacifica treasurer Tracy Rosenberg testified that she helped draft it, along with then-vice chair Heather Gray, a representative of Pacifica’s affiliate stations. It was ultimately signed by then-secretary Richard Uzzell, a representative from KPFT in Houston.

The secret contract eliminated the requirement that Reese pass a background check, functionally eliminated her probationary status, and built in a $105,000 golden parachute that applied even if Reese were fired for cause. In other words: they sought to make Reese unfireable by — and therefore unaccountable to — the elected board that was supposed to supervise her.

Judge Petrou ruled that “the board never authorized Gray or Uzell to enter the  January agreement, the board never ratified that agreement, and in fact the majority of the board expressly rejected the January agreement.”

Other issues that came up during the hearing: Edwards-Tiekert testified that Reese had run large deficits at the Pacifica National Office, directed employees working under her to give her large payroll advances in violation of Pacifica policies, and directed employees to reimburse her for expenses without submitting receipts.

During the proceedings, Judge Petrou also threatened to throw former Pacifica treasurer Tracy Rosenberg out of court for mouthing answers to Richard Uzzell while he was testifying. Rosenberg had been a dominant behind-the-scenes player for several years at Pacifica, and is currently serving as Reese’s PR person. Rosenberg was the architect of the decision by then-executive Arlene Engelhardt to cancel KPFA’s Morning Show.

Pacifica Radio was very ably represented in court by Dan Siegel of Siegel & Yee, a SaveKPFA representative on the Pacifica National Board until he stepped down in January to run for Mayor of Oakland. | READ legal filingsMemorandum for TRO, Yee declaration, Wilkinson declaration, Verified cross-complaint, Application for TRO, Order to show cause, Judge Petrou’s decision

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