NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE APPELLANT
HUBERT BASS, MEMBER AND CHAIRMAN OF THE ELECTION SUPERVISORY COMMITTEE OF THE CRITTENDEN COUNTY BRANCH OF THE NAACP APPELLEE
FROM THE CRITTENDEN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 18CV-10-757]
HONORABLE VICTOR L. HILL, JUDGE
Wright, Lindsey & Jennings, LLP, by: Troy A. Price; and
Berliner Corcoran & Rowe LLP, by: Melvin White, pro hac
vice, for appellant.
Lewellen, for appellee.
RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge.
case stems from a lengthy and contentious dispute between
appellant, the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People ("NAACP"), and the Crittenden County
Branch of the NAACP ("the Branch"), represented by
appellee, Hubert Bass. In 2010, Mr. Bass filed suit in the
Crittenden County Circuit Court to resolve a controversy over
the election of Branch officers. The NAACP intervened and was
ultimately held in contempt for failing to obey court orders.
As sanctions, the circuit court directed the NAACP to pay the
Branch $100, 000, plus $20, 000 in attorney's fees, and
imposed a three-year "pre-clearance" period, during
which the NAACP could take no action regarding the Branch
without the court's permission. The NAACP appeals the
contempt order. We affirm.
November 15, 2010, the Branch held an election to choose its
local officers. Prior to the election, the incumbent
president, Willa Catha-Jones, advised the NAACP's
national office that a group of people were trying to
"seize" the Branch. Fearing a disruption in the
election process, the national office urged NAACP Arkansas
State Conference President Dale Charles to oversee the
election. Mr. Charles traveled to West Memphis for that
purpose but was prevented from monitoring the election by Mr.
Bass and others on the Branch's election committee. The
election proceeded, and all incumbent officers were defeated,
including Willa Catha-Jones.
the election results, Ms. Catha-Jones refused to relinquish
her presidency. The national NAACP apparently supported her
stance in a December 2010 letter, which stated that the
election was void. This led Mr. Bass to file suit to validate
the election results and enjoin any interference with the new
officers' installation. Mr. Bass listed Ms. Catha-Jones
and the Branch as defendants but did not name the national
NAACP as a party.
hearing, the circuit court issued a temporary injunction on
February 17, 2011, confirming the election results and
stating that "the unilateral claim of a third party that
the election is void does not qualify to void the
election." The court then listed the roster of newly
elected officers, including the new Branch president, Mr.
March 9, 2011, the NAACP's national office sent a letter
to Mr. Afrika stating that the election was
"suspended"; that new elections had been scheduled;
and that the Branch's former officers would
"continue to serve." The court learned of the
letter and entered an order on March 31, 2011, stating that
persons "outside Crittenden County" were attempting
to overturn the court's rulings in concert with Ms.
Catha-Jones. The court warned that those in league with Ms.
Catha-Jones acted at their own peril and invited the NAACP to
come before the court to explain its actions.
following day, April 1, 2011, the NAACP filed a motion to
intervene in the case. The motion was granted on April 12,
2011. In the interim the NAACP sent a letter to Mr. Afrika on
April 8, 2011, suspending his membership and accusing him of
misrepresenting himself as president of the Branch.
later, on October 13, 2011, the court entered an order
strongly suggesting that the NAACP resolve the case by
recognizing the legitimacy of the 2010 election and granting
the Branch all rights and privileges enjoyed by a branch in
good standing. The court's suggestion apparently fell on
deaf ears because, on October 26, 2011, the NAACP's chief
operating officer, Roger Vann, distributed a letter declaring
that the national board of directors had voted to suspend the
Branch's charter; that the Branch had "no
officers"; and that the Branch was "not in good
standing." The letter bore the salutation, "Dear
NAACP Member" and was purportedly sent to the Branch
membership. The letter was also copied to various state and
national NAACP officials.
response to the letter, Mr. Bass filed a motion for an ex
parte injunction to prevent the suspension of the
Branch's charter and Mr. Afrika's membership. The
court granted the motion in a November 4, 2011 order. The
order recited that the NAACP's October 26, 2011 letter
was in "direct and flagrant contravention of the
court's previous orders" and constituted "an
act of contempt" for which sanctions would be
considered. The court additionally stated:
To make it clear, just in case further clarification is
Neither the intervenor [the NAACP], its officers, agents,
attorneys, or employees, or anyone else acting on their
behalf or in concert with them has any authority to make any
determinations regarding the Crittenden County Branch of the
NAACP, its status, the status or legitimacy of any of its
members or officers, or any other matter until this court, or
a court with appellate authority over this court, says
NAACP filed a motion to vacate the order, which the court
denied on December 22, 2011.
eighteen months later, at an August 29, 2013 hearing, Mr.
Bass's counsel asked the NAACP to issue a letter
reinstating the Branch and its membership. Counsel argued
that the NAACP had continued to deny the Branch's
legitimacy, citing as proof the letters suspending the
Branch's charter and Mr. Afrika's membership as well
as a 2012 incident in which Branch members were not allowed
to vote at the state convention. The NAACP declined to write
a letter but stipulated in court that the Branch and Mr.
Afrika's membership were "in good standing" and
further asked that all parties be required to abide by the
NAACP's constitution and bylaws. The court stated that it
would "take the stipulation" and draft a proposed
order. That order, which will be discussed in greater detail,
would not be entered until October 27, 2014.
intervening months, conflict between the NAACP and the Branch
persisted. In September 2013, the Branch was denied full
participation at the state convention, purportedly because it
had failed to file year-end and quarterly reports, as
required by NAACP bylaws. Additionally, the NAACP sent
letters to the Branch on November 21, 2013, and March 6,
2014, stating that the Branch was "revoked." These
letters also requested a greater share of the ...