A nearly three-year-long legal battle reached a quiet end Monday when the latest in a series of lawsuits challenging the governance structure of USA Cycling was settled out of court.
Andrew Rosen, who represented plaintiffs Brett Wade, Charles Howe and Eric Petersen in a lawsuit challenging USA Cycling’s most recent membership election, told VeloNews that the case “will be dismissed and an agreement has been reached to the satisfaction of all parties.”
Neither Rosen, nor USA Cycling chief executive officer Lisa Voight would offer details of the settlement citing a confidentiality clause in the agreement, which was finalized on Monday.
“We’re just happy that it’s over,” Voight said. “We can get back to work on trying to make the organization a success without this thing being at the back of everyone’s mind.”
This latest suit was the outgrowth of a dispute over election procedures and campaign practices used by supporters of a re-organization plan sponsored by members of the USA Cycling Development Foundation. The plaintiffs charged that supporters of Proposition A illegally relied on USA Cycling staff to lobby members, present misleading summaries of competing proposals and seek members’ proxy votes using inappropriate methods.
The so-called Proposition A handily defeated (by a margin of 6007 to 432) an alternative plan – Proposition B – supported by the plaintiffs and by former USCF board member Les Earnest. Though not a plaintiff in the recently settled case, Earnest’s reform efforts and the reactions that they triggered on the board of USA Cycling were at the root of the dispute.
Earnest originally filed a lawsuit challenging USA Cycling’s first attempt to implement a similar reorganization plan in February of 1999. After losing the first round of that suit, Earnest won on appeal. In its ruling, the court set aside a comprehensive reorganization of USA Cycling on the grounds that the governing body’s board of directors violated their own rules by rushing the proposal through under “emergency” provisions of its bylaws.
The appeals court ruled that the procedures used in enacting the 24-page “reform” of the organization’s bylaws and articles of incorporation were a violation of USA Cycling’s own rules, because the board failed to meet its own standards as to what constituted an “emergency,” a requirement when legislation is “fast-tracked” as was the case in 1999.
The decision repealed most major legislative actions taken by the board and forced the entire reorganization question on to the 2001 membership election ballot. During the election Earnest and the group of plaintiffs in the case complained bitterly about USA Cycling election practices and sought a court order delaying the election after being denied the opportunity to print a pro-Proposition B advertisement in USA Cycling’s magazine. The group was later allowed to print the ad, but the suit was later amended to ask the court to overturn the results.
Rosen declined to offer details of the settlement or of the reasons his clients opted to end their suit. “It may just be that they want to devote their efforts directly at helping grassroots cycling in this country,” Rosen said.
While Earnest was not a plaintiff in the suit, he is said to be a party to the settlement, telling supporters that he will donate whatever share he earns to the recently formed Federation of Independent Associations of Cycling.
At a time when the sport has seen renewed interest and more visibility, USA Cycling has suffered a serious drop in membership over the past five years. A significant part of that decline can be attributed to the formation of several breakaway organizations, most of which have joined together under the umbrella of FIAC.
USA Cycling chief operating officer Steve Johnson told VeloNews on Monday that “closing the rift” is now at the top of the organization’s agenda.
That task, however, may not be all that easy, said Rosen.
“Sure there’s a possibility,” Rosen remarked, “but there’s a lot of history there. It really depends on who is in charge, who is running the organization and where their interests are. The [members of FIAC] have gotten by pretty well without the federation. Racing in those parts of the country – including right here in Colorado – is thriving without them.”