MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — The National Arts Club violated their own rules by ousting the group's former president O. Aldon James from the board and trying to evict him from the club-owned apartment he has lived in for decades without a proper hearing, a Manhattan judge ruled Thursday.
But the judge also shot down a number of James' claims against the board, including acts of "bias" by some members and claims that they were improperly warned about the allegations.
The former president of the exclusive Gramercy Park South institution was unfairly treated when the board members hastily tried to revoke James' membership and call a hearing to boot him from a duplex on the park for which he recently paid $1,143-a-month, Justice Carol Edmead decided.
"The Court finds that in light of the severity of the charges, the potential loss of long vested rights, loss of residential possession, and the voluminous nature of the facts giving rise to the disciplinary hearing, the strictures placed on the manner in which the hearing shall be conducted are unreasonable," the judge wrote in the 23-page ruling, which granted James, his twin brother John and their friend, Steven Leitner, a preliminary injunction.
"Plaintiffs have also established that they will suffer immediate and irreparable injury in the absence of an injunction. Plaintiffs stand to lose their homes, ability to take part in what has become the most meaningful aspect of their lives, and damage to their professional reputations," Edmead wrote.
James — whose financial dealings as the head of the NAC, along with the club's finances themselves, are under investigation by the Attorney General's and District Attorney's offices — his brother John and Leitner had been living at the club in low-rent apartments.
In August, the club voted to hold a meeting about booting the trio from the apartments they lived in and others where that were used for storage, but the trio filed suit.
The judge's ruling essentially reinforces a temporary injunction issued earlier this month that barred the club from holding a hearing to evict James and unseat him as a board member.
"[T]he proceeding and finding by defendants potentially have a significant impact on the criminal investigations pending against plaintiffs ... Therefore, preliminary injunction relief is granted," the judge wrote.
The board's strict rules about the hearing, which was scheduled for Aug. 30 and 31, included a 15 minute time cap on the duration that each side could question witnesses. Edmead found that was "unreasonable and violative of the plaintiffs' Due Process rights."
According to the decision, the board would have to have organized an expulsion hearing in accordance with its own bylaws and with enough time for James and the others to defend themselves from the allegations.
But Edmead shot down many of the James brothers' claims, including that some of the board members showed "bias" against them and that the board was wrong when it emailed members about the hearing instead of using snail mail.
In addition the judge said that the James brothers and Leitner were properly alerted about the allegations against them and that there was nothing improper about calling a hearing.
"The NAC Board of Governors has the power to remove the petitioners for cause," Edmead ruled.
"Thus, joining the NAC, plaintiffs have agreed to [be] bound by the NAC's rules as set forth in its Bylaws."
James' attorney, Adam Gilbert, said the ruling means the ex-president's reinstatement as a board member is now effective. He stepped down from the presidency but his status as a board member was in question.
"The court today recognized what was clearly an unauthorized and improper action by the board, mainly an attempt to remove Aldon from his position without due process," said Gilbert.
In a statement released Friday, the club said: "we are very happy with Judge Edmead's informed and thoughtful decision.
"The National Arts Club's goal from the outset has been to be permitted to follow its Constitution and to proceed with an internal hearing and allow the Board to decide on what, if any, discipline will be imposed upon The James Group."
The parties are due back before the judge on Oct. 26.
In a previous version of this story, DNAinfo mistakenly attributed the judge's writing about the background of the case as the judge's official ruling.