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LULAC in turmoil, as two groups claim control of oldest Hispanic civil rights organization

Dallas attorney Domingo García says: ‘There is only one LULAC, we are in charge of the national office.’ Splinter group claims to be legal representative of the civil rights organization.

Domingo García
Domingo García, elected to become president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, spoke at a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15, 2022.(Nathan Howard / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

By María Ramos Pacheco and Rebekah Alvey

Two factions of the League of United Latin American Citizens are claiming administrative control of the nation’s oldest Hispanic civil rights organization, and legal analysts say the dispute will likely be settled in court.

In simultaneous meetings on Oct. 21 and 22 in Dallas and Washington, D.C., these two factions tried to outmaneuver each other to take control by removing board members and appointing new people to key positions.

After the competing meetings, both factions sent press releases claiming to be the legitimate and legal representatives of the organization, lengthening the legal limbo that has dragged LULAC since the end of July after failed elections for a new president during its annual convention in Puerto Rico.

“They probably feel they are each in the right and that’s the kind of dispute that ends up in court,” said Marcus Owens, partner at Loeb & Loeb in Washington, D.C., a law firm that in part advises and represents nonprofits.

Owens said a court typically looks at the organization’s bylaws for board election and replacement procedures, conducting meetings, and maintaining records.

Depending on the state in which LULAC is incorporated and how it classifies nonprofits versus charities, he said, the state attorney general could be asked to decide leadership or take action.

In some situations, he said attorney generals had asked the court to appoint an entirely new board through the court, or a board has been able to establish a stronger legal claim. In other instances, Owens said the organization could be dissolved entirely or split into two versions.

Meetings in Dallas

At meetings in Dallas on Oct. 21 and 22, members of the board of directors terminated the contract of CEO Sindy Benavides and five members were removed, including Ralina Cardona, national vice president of the Northeast region, who disputes the lead to Dallas attorney Domingo García.

The group dismissed the accusation of impeachment against García as president, in addition to other appointments.

Also expelled from the board were Elsie Valdes-Ramos, Ivonne Quiñones, Andrés Rodríguez, Linda Chávez and Pablo Martínez, who was also kicked out of the organization.

“There is only one LULAC, we are in charge of the national office, of all the funds, and we have the majority of the board of directors. But we have a group of fake people pretending to be LULAC, but they have no authority. LULAC continues to focus on the civil rights of Latinos,” García, who was elected president of LULAC in 2018, said Tuesday.

García added that 25 of 35 members of the board of directors were present at the meeting. He also explained that the meeting had to take place in Dallas and not Washington, D.C., due to the unavailability of members in Washington.

Meeting in Washington, D.C.

On the same days, the splinter group voted in Washington to remove García as national president of LULAC and the LULAC National Institute, and Cardona was installed in his place. They also voted to confirm Benavides in the position, in addition to approving other appointments.

Cardona, who lives in New York, was elected as the national vice president of the Southwest region in 2018.

In a statement issued Oct. 22 under the seal of the LULAC Institute, Inc., this group stated that “García is no longer president of LULAC and does not represent LULAC in any capacity, nor is he a member of the Board of Directors.” In this same document, they characterized the Dallas meeting as an “unofficial event.”Related:LULAC members demand Domingo García’s dismissal as president

Responding to repeated requests for comment, Cardona said she couldn’t speak in depth to the press because of pending legal issues but said she had taken legal action to show that her group acted in accordance with LULAC’s constitution.

Following the meetings, both groups accused the other of improperly taking possession of the organization’s official website and social media accounts.

LULAC National is a legal nonprofit incorporated in Texas. Its LULAC Institute, a separate administrative arm of the organization, has legal recognition in Washington, D.C. The entities are affiliated and work for the same interests.

LULAC is the oldest civil rights advocacy organization for Latinos in the United States, founded in 1929 in Corpus Christi. LULAC promotes the economic advancement, political influence, right to education and civil rights of the Latino community.

Court intervention might be needed

Thomas Mayo, a professor specializing in nonprofit organizations at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, said deciding who is legally in power at LULAC will depend on the organization’s constitution. However, he said the facts of the dispute will be contested and will likely have to be resolved in litigation.

“Such litigation is often costly in terms of the financial costs of legal proceedings, as well as the impact on membership, philanthropic support and even institutional reputation down the road,” Mayo said in an email. “I hope that doesn’t happen because LULAC has been at the forefront of many positive developments for the Latin American community for many decades.”

LULAC has faced legal challenges since July, when a judge in Dallas issued a temporary restraining order on its election as president.

The suspension prompted several LULAC members to petition the board of directors to remove García, who was accused of violating LULAC’s constitution.

The members allege that García neglected his duties, and in violation of the constitution, he suspended the election of LULAC and suspended national and state members without authorization from the executive board.

As of October, the board of directors had received 77 articles of impeachment.

In September, the LULAC board of directors met in Washington, D.C., to vote on whether to impeach García, but Dallas County Judge Maricela Moore issued a temporary restraining order the night before that meeting, blocking proceedings for an impeachment hearing.

On Oct. 14, the hearing was to be held in the 162 District Court of Dallas to continue the meeting suspended in Washington, D.C., but it was canceled according to court documents citing that it was “solicited by attorney/pro se”.

The new hearing is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 31, at 9 a.m. in the same court.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:44 a.m. to clarify Marcus Owens’ position at Loeb & Loeb.

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