In a three-and-a-half hour hearing, punctuated by heavy rain, a hailstorm and temporary loss of electricity, conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly fought to keep control of the organization she founded, Eagle Forum.
Judge John B. Barberis Jr. in the Circuit Court of the Third Judicial Circuit, in Madison County, Illinois, is expected to announce a decision as early as Thursday regarding a petition for a temporary restraining order made by six Eagle Forum board members who oppose Schlafly’s leadership, including her daughter.
The hearing took a political tone as attorneys from the Runnymede Law Group in St. Louis, Missouri, representing Schlafly, argued the six dissenting board members were attempting a coup in response to Schlafly’s endorsement of Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.
The board members, Schlafly’s lawyers charged, were attempting to divert the financial resources, membership contact list and national reputation of Eagle Forum to support Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.
In an explosive development buried within the legal briefs filed in the case, Schlafly’s attorneys charged the Cruz campaign had obtained unauthorized control of Eagle Forum membership and leaders lists to persuade members to vote for Cruz.
‘A choice not an echo’
In his Wednesday speech announcing Carly Fiorina would be his vice presidential candidate if he becomes the GOP nominee, Cruz said the American people wanted a president who could present “a choice, not an echo” in public policy.
The reference clearly was to Schlafly’s seminal 1964 book, “A Choice Not an Echo,” written to support the presidential candidacy of Sen. Barry Goldwater.
“That’s my phrase, and Ted Cruz knows it,” Schlafly told WND. “But as far as I’m concerned, ‘a choice not an echo’ this year applies to Donald Trump, not Ted Cruz. Trump is the only one in the Republican Party who can take on the king-makers in the GOP leadership establishment.”
Schlafly acknowledged the support of Eagle Forum members was important to Cruz’s effort to turn around his presidential campaign by beating Trump in Indiana.
“Eagle Forum members are important to any GOP candidate seeking to win an election,” Schlafly agreed. “Eagle Forum members are trained to be knowledgeable and articulate, and that’s why they make an impact in any election in which they get involved.”
WND reported April 11 Schlafly said the Eagle Forum board was plotting to fire her because she had endorsed Trump a month earlier, on March 11.
“This may be my Dobson moment,” Schlafly told WND, referring to allegations that James Dobson was pushed out of the organization he founded, Focus on the Family.
While the six dissenting board members had a simple majority of the 11-person board, Schlafly’s attorneys believe she has a strong defense in arguing the Eagle Forum by-laws, as reported by WND on Monday, may require a two-thirds vote to pass resolutions of a magnitude sufficient to wrest control of the organization.
‘The iron lady of Eagle Forum’
In court Thursday, Schlafly’s attorneys charged the request for a temporary restraining order was nothing more than a “ruse” by the six dissenting board members who were attempting to utilize the court to “attempt to seize control of Eagle Forum from founder Phyllis Schlafly over her support of Donald Trump for the Republican nomination for president of the United States and to gain control of Eagle Forum’s $4 million in assets.”
The six plaintiffs include Anne Cori, Schlafly’s daughter.
In response to a WND request for comment, Cori emailed that the judge had asked the plaintiffs not to speak to press or engage in social media.
Schlafly, age 91, notified of the hearing only on Monday, was in attendance while none of the six opposition board members were present.
At the end of the hearing, Eagle Forum President Ed Martin, whom the six opposition board members seek to oust, commented that Schlafly’s stamina was holding up through what has developed into a trying ordeal.
“The iron lady of Eagle Forum sat there in the courtroom from 1:30 p.m. until 5 o’clock, as a thunderstorm went through, the power went out briefly; and the elevator in the building didn’t work when the hearing ended,” Martin said. “Phyllis walked down the stairs with the rest of us. Meanwhile, none of the six opposition board members showed up; only their three high-powered lawyers.”
Spencer Fane LLP in St. Louis represented Anne Cori and the other five board members acting as plaintiffs, a law firm Eagle Forum has pointed out also represents Planned Parenthood.
Cruz makes use of Eagle Forum lists
The Runnymede Law Group noted in the defendants’ motion to the court that the dispute over presidential candidates traced back to July 2015, when Phyllis Schlafly, in her individual capacity, made favorable comments about Trump.
The defendants’ attorneys further said that since January 2016, the plaintiffs “have endorsed and have sought to get other persons affiliated with Eagle Forum to endorse Ted Cruz in a letter that misleadingly suggests that Eagle Forum as an organization endorses Senator Cruz.”
Further, they alleged the six board members misappropriated Eagle Forum membership lists as well as contact information for leaders, volunteers and other followers in direct violation of an Eagle Forum policy that prohibits providing such lists to political campaigns.
According to affidavits submitted by the defendants, Cori allegedly handed over the Eagle Forum membership and leaders lists to the Cruz campaign, which used them to make marketing calls.
Martin, in his affidavit, noted Kitty Werthmann, the Eagle Forum state leader for South Dakota, made him aware that the Cruz campaign was contacting her by telephone, soliciting her personal information and endorsement, and urging Eagle Forum to endorse Cruz for president.
“Ms. Werthmann provided me the number from which the call had been made,” Martin said. “I then looked up that phone number and determined that it was registered to a company with the Cruz campaign.”
Tracing the information back through the Eagle Forum organization, Martin determined a contractor to the Eagle Forum Education Fund, who was a part-time employee of Cruz’s presidential campaign, had requested and obtained the Eagle Forum lists from Eagle Forum staff, following instructions by Anne Cori.
Jeff Roe, Cruz’s campaign manager, did not respond to a WND email request for comment.
‘An attempted coup’
On the morning of April 12, the day after the board meeting in which the six opposition members had voted with a simple majority to take over Eagle Forum’s 501(c)4 organization, Cori and her husband appeared at the Eagle Trust Fund offices in Alton, Illinois, and demanded access to Eagle Forum ‘s files.
John and Andrew Schlafly, Phyllis Schlafly’s sons, according to affidavits Eagle Forum submitted in the case, informed Cori and her husband that Eagle Forum did not own the building and they were not welcomed on premises.
Cori and her husband agree to leave only after police were called and arrived.
“The complaint and motion brought by the six board members involves a highly unusual request in that typically a temporary restraining order is petitioned in order to preserve the status quo so as to prevent the plaintiffs from suffering irreparable harm,” Andy Schlafly, an attorney, explained to WND in a telephone interview.
“Here six board members are asking not to preserve the status quo, which would involve allowing Phyllis to remain in control of the Eagle Forum 501(c)4 organization, but to change the status quo by replacing Phyllis with themselves, effectively approving their takeover of the organization,” he continued.
“None of it is really to preserve the status quo. It’s really a motion requesting the court to give its approval to the six dissenting board members to proceed with their attempted coup.”
Should the six board members obtain the temporary restraining order sought, Phyllis Schlafly would be forced to accept their April 11 votes as legally binding, Andy Schlafly pointed out.
“They are asking for unprecedented requests, including requesting the judge to install their opposition attorney as the attorney for the organization,” he argued. “To the contrary, defendants face irreparable harm if the court grants the plaintiff’s motion. Plaintiffs seek to seize control of Eagle Forum assets for their own benefit.”
Schlafly’s lawyers argued that the plaintiffs intended to utilize resolutions they passed at the April 11 meeting, in alleged violation of the organization’s by-laws, “to control $4 million in bank and investment accounts, contact
At-large director’s election
As the controversy developed, attorneys for Phyllis Schlafly determined that according to the by-laws, an at-large election could be called to replace Rosina Kovar, one of the six dissenting board members, who had been elected as at-large director in January 2007.
On April 18, Phyllis Schlafly approved sending out an email to Eagle Forum members asking for nominations to replace Kovar after Kovar surpassed the two-term limit for directors elected after January 2007.
As Eagle Forum chairman and CEO, Phyllis Schlafly selected three nominees to replace Kovar, and a ballot was mailed to Eagle Forum members on April 22.
In requesting the temporary restraining order, the six dissenting board members seek to have the at-large election nullified, allowing Kovar to remain as an at-large director.
A new at-large director is widely expected to support Phyllis Schlafly, which would deprive the remaining five opposition directors of the simple majority used to pass resolutions at the controversial April 11 board meeting.