Judge denies motion to halt St. Joseph - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Judge denies motion to halt St. Joseph Society meeting on Wednesday

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LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- A Jefferson Circuit Court judge has denied a request to cancel a special meeting of the St. Joseph Catholic Orphan Society on Wednesday.

A group whose members claim they were ousted illegally from the society's board of trustees asked Judge Brian Edwards last week to cancel the meeting of the 1,400-person organization until a lawsuit over who controls the society is resolved.

But in his ruling Monday, Edwards found nothing in the organization's bylaws prevented the meeting and the old board members could not show how it would cause them immediate and irreparable injury.

The meeting will be the first since a dispute in February changed the makeup of the board and led to a 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 meeting, called by 292 members of the organization, is supposed to include a discussion of the events that led to the litigation and a vote on the resolutions that were passed on Feb. 6 that ushered in a new board.

William Walsh, an attorney for the ousted board members, said he had not seen the ruling and didn't know yet if he would appeal. He said it is unlikely his clients will attend the meeting.

Pamela Cotton, the  executive director of the St. Joseph Catholic Orphan Society, said "we are pleased the society is going to be allowed to meet and vote again to approve the resolutions" from February.

Cotton said in an court affidavit filed last week that she and her senior management will likely resign if a group previously in control of the board of trustees is put back in charge by a judge.

Cotton has also said that donors will leave, a capital campaign will "unravel," construction of cottages for the children will be jeopardized and St. Joseph's "will lose credibility."

The request for an injunction came 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.

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."

On Feb. 6 a group led by Thurman Senn, who had resigned as trustee following the August meeting and now chairs the board, took over as board members.

Walsh has argued 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. He also told Edwards last week that the meeting should be postponed until there is a decision by the judge on whether the current board is legitimate or not.

The current board, Walsh said, is attempting to "legitimize themselves after the fact."

Cotton said in her affidavit that she has hired retired Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Tom Knopf to serve as a moderator and hired an accounting firm to count any votes taken.

A representative for Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz plans to attend the meeting, but not vote, Cecelia Price, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Louisville, has said.

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