MANHATTAN — The National Arts Club's board was within its rights to expel its former president O. Aldon James amid accusations of misusing club resources, a New York appeals court ruled Thursday.
The appeals court struck down an earlier Manhattan Supreme Court ruling against the club, saying the judge had "overstepped" the legal system's authority when ruling on the matters of a private institution.
Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead ordered the 114-year-old Gramercy Park institution to hold a new hearing conducted by a neutral party following the board’s February vote to expel its ex-president based on findings from an internal hearing.
Edmead later ruled that the club no longer appeared unbiased in light of new facts that emerged, and she ordered a new hearing based on guidelines she created herself.
The National Arts Club's board, however, appealed that decision, and on Wednesday the court's appellate division sided with them.
The appellate court’s decision criticized Edmead for reaching her conclusion without "reviewing the full record of the hearing." It added, “Even if we were to address the merits, we would find that the court, in this ruling, overstepped its authority by interfering with internal, private, club proceedings."
The decision let the results of the club’s internal hearing stand — which means the board can boot James, his twin brother, John, and their friend Steven Leitner, who at one time controlled an estimated 20 of the organization’s 40 apartments. They paid below-market rates for a few of the apartments and used most of them for free.
The board had justified its vote, saying the three men “committed conduct that is seriously prejudicial to the Club and which violated the rules and policies of the Club.”
As first reported by DNAinfo.com New York, the James brothers and Leitner used club apartments to hoard flea market junk and antiques — believed to have been purchased with the organization's money.
The men still control three apartments stuffed with junk, but club insiders say they no longer live at 15 Gramercy Park South.
The New York Attorney General filed a $2 million lawsuit last month against Aldon James, claiming the former president used the historic club for personal benefit, alleging, for instance, that James’ use of the apartments deprived the club of at least $1.5 million in rental income that could have flowed into the arts institution in the last six years alone.
James’ lawyer vowed he would fight the AG’s suit, but the team representing him on this appeal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The club’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.