Ballard Spahr scored a decisive win in its pro bono representation of National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM) President Kevin Johnson, the Mayor of Sacramento and former NBA All-Star. In this nationally publicized case, the Ballard Spahr team blocked an effort to oust Mayor Johnson as NCBM President when the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia, ruled that he was legitimately elected to that position in May 2013.
The dispute began when, upon his election as NCBM President, Mayor Johnson launched an internal audit of the 40-year-old organization because the organization had lost its 501(c)(3) tax status and had accrued more than $1 million in debt and liabilities prior to his election.
In response, Mayor Robert Bowser, the past President of NCBM, and its Executive Director, Vanessa Williams, who was implicated in the investigation, challenged the election of Mayor Johnson as well as actions he took in NCBM's name. Mayor Bowser and Ms. Williams argued that Mayor Johnson's election as NCBM President was invalid because it was not cast by secret ballot in the presence of an election supervisor in accordance with NCBM's bylaws, even though Mayor Bowser, as the outgoing President, had presided at Mayor Johnson's unanimous and unopposed election as President and had not required a secret ballot.
Key to Ballard Spahr's victory was a methodical outline that the litigators presented to the court in their closing argument brief. The outline set forth a series of questions for the court to answer regarding the validity of Mayor Johnson's election and his efforts to undertake the internal audit. The court found that Mayor Bowser and the entire NCBM membership had effectively waived compliance with the secret ballot requirement in unanimously electing Mayor Johnson President by a voice vote, and, therefore, his election was valid. The court also found that Mayor Johnson had properly called the Board meeting at which the Board decided to conduct its internal audit. Finally, the court found that a special Board meeting called by Mayor Bowser and Ms. Williams to oust President Johnson was not properly called and a nullity.
The Ballard Spahr litigation team that represented Mayor Johnson and the NCBM leadership was led by David H. Pittinsky, Byung J. Pak, and Ethan H. Cohen.
“It was our privilege to help Mayor Johnson in his fight to help NCBM get its financial house in order,” Mr. Pittinsky said. “We thoroughly researched the issues and knew we had the facts and law on our side, which enabled us to present a convincing and persuasive argument to the court.”