Ousted St. Joseph society board asks judge to halt Nov. 20 meeti - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Ousted St. Joseph society board asks judge to halt Nov. 20 meeting

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A group whose members claim they were ousted illegally from the St. Joseph Catholic Orphan Society's board of trustees wants a judge to cancel a special meeting of the 1,400-person organization planned for next week.

The motion filed Tuesday asks Jefferson Circuit Judge Brian C. Edwards to prohibit the society's acting board from holding a Nov. 20 meeting until the lawsuit over who controls the society is resolved.

A hearing was scheduled for Thursday in Jefferson Circuit Court.

The meeting would be the first since a dispute in February changed the makeup of the board and led to the lawsuit.  The 164-year-old agency provides housing for neglected and abused children and organizes an annual summer fundraising picnic on the Frankfort Avenue grounds of the St. Joseph Children's Home.

The request for an injunction comes days after the Kentucky Court of Appeals refused to dismiss the lawsuit, determining that the case hinges on whether the organization's bylaws were followed and not religious issues.

A group acting as the board of the orphan society asked the court to review an earlier decision by Edwards, who had denied their motion to dismiss the lawsuit. That group had argued for dismissal because the dispute involved a Catholic religious organization affiliated with the Archdiocese of Louisville.

But the appeals court ruled the case does not "involve an ecclesiastical question."

"The question presented is whether the removal of the Board as stewards of the Society's property was authorized and in accordance with the bylaws. While the bylaws must be in keeping with the teachings and beliefs of the Catholic Church, the bylaws themselves are not religious in nature and are capable of neutral interpretation," the appeals court judges wrote in their opinion.

The Nov. 20 meeting is supposed to include a vote on the resolutions that were passed on Feb. 6 that ushered in a new board.

The eight people claiming to be rightful members of the board say they were wrongfully removed from their positions during the February meeting and their rights will "continue to be violated" if the meeting is not stopped.

The saga has led to divisions among members of the society.

"This is just wearing us all out," said Pamela Cotton, St. Joseph's executive director. "The current board wants to put this to a vote and settle it once and for all."

William Walsh, an attorney for the ousted board members, has said his clients don't think the current board would be calling a special meeting if the "Feb. 6 takeover had been done properly" and added that his clients want a chance to defend themselves and have charges against them submitted in writing, according to the bylaws in place prior to February.

A representative for Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz plans to attend next week's meeting, but not vote, according to Cecelia Price, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Louisville.

The makeup of the board had been in flux since August 2012, when the trustees didn't get enough votes to remove a board member accused of sexually harassing staff members. At least a dozen board members resigned in the wake of that vote.

WDRB.com reported last month that an independent consultant had recommended that the board ask for the trustee, Earl Hartlage, to resign in 2008 because of a harassment allegation.

Hartlage, a former Jefferson County commissioner, remained on the board. He has called the allegations against him "untrue" and "baseless."

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