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Lawsuit challenging L.A. County Republican Party's leadership dismissed [Updated]

May 26, 2010 |  6:07 pm

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit claiming that the leaders of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County had executed a “coup” and were not entitled to call themselves elected officers.

For more than a year, two rival slates of officers, each with its own website, have claimed to be the county party’s elected executive board.

The dispute pitted seven officers led by Chairwoman Jane Barnett against a group of self-described newcomers seeking a change in leadership under Robert Vaughn.

According to the complaint, Vaughn and two other plaintiffs were elected to the board after Barnett and others walked out of a contentious vote Dec. 6, 2008.

On May 14, 2009, Barnett’s supporters moved to impeach Chairman Glen Forsch, who was linked politically to the plaintiffs but was not party to their lawsuit. The complaint contended that Forsch and First Vice Chairwoman Lydia Gutierrez both resigned during that meeting and that Vaughn, who was then second vice chairman, should have automatically succeeded to the chairmanship.

Instead, fresh elections were held in which Barnett was selected to the post.

“The election that supposedly elected Jane Barnett as chairman had no basis in legitimacy,” said attorney Richard Williams, who represented the seven plaintiffs.

Judge Michael Solner accepted a submission by Gutierrez that she did not resign until after Barnett was elected chairwoman, but rather asked Mike Osborn, the Ventura County Republican Party chairman and chairman of the rules committee of the California Republican Party, to temporarily take charge of the meeting.

“Mr. Vaughn and his cohorts participated in that election without objection,” said Barnett’s lawyer, Harmeet Dhillon. “This is a case of sour grapes.”

The judge agreed with Dhillon that the plaintiffs would be unlikely to win their case and that preventing the  current leaders from exercising their positions would violate their right to free speech and assembly. The legal costs were assigned to the plaintiffs.

[Updated at 7:16 p.m. An earlier version of this post said Osborn agreed with Dhillon.]

Williams said his clients were considering an appeal but would in the meantime abide by the court’s decision and not represent themselves as the executive board.

Vaughn expressed disappointment at the decision, saying, “I would hope that the court would at least hear the merits of the case.”

“There are always a group of people that take control of any process,” he said. “I think it’s about making sure that people’s rights are not trampled.”

Still, he made a point of shaking Barnett’s hand after the case. She said she hoped her rivals would attend the county party’s next meeting June 10.

“The losers are always upset,” Barnett said. “It’s been a little bit of a setback to us in L.A. County, but I told my board we have to focus on the election.”

-- Alexandra Zavis