- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

LYNCHBURG, Va. A federal judge who compared the case to a divorce said he would rule Monday on who controls the Reform Party in a bitter feud that has one side accusing the other of a "raw power takeover."
"What we have here in this case are honorable people who are divided in beliefs on which way the party should go," said U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon. "The differences here are that they can't even compromise without compromising their beliefs."
Jack Gargan, the party chairman ousted at a raucous meeting last month in Nashville, Tenn., contended in court that he is the real leader of the party founded by Texas billionaire Ross Perot.
Mr. Gargan told Judge Moon the Nashville meeting was illegal because proper notice had not been given to party members and some who voted were not credentialed as outlined in the party's constitution.
On the second day of testimony in the case, Mr. Gargan also argued that the vote should be nullified because he hadn't called the meeting to order.
"This basically was a raw power takeover of the party to get rid of me," said Mr. Gargan, who was removed by party members aligned with Mr. Perot. Mr. Gargan is an ally of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.
Mr. Gargan and Pat Choate, the man who replaced him, now run parallel chairmanships complete with dueling "official" party Web sites and plans for rival nominating conventions.
Each side claims ownership of $2.5 million in federal funding, most of which is held in the custody of the court. The prevailing side also will get $12.5 million in the fall for the general election.
In closing arguments, Dale Cooter, Mr. Choate's attorney, said the Feb. 12 vote was valid and "exceedingly fair." Mr. Cooter painted Mr. Gargan as a tyrant who wanted to rule the party by himself, going against the executive committee's wishes and overturning its decisions.
"Mr. Gargan got himself elected and did the functional equivalent of martial law," Mr. Cooter said. "Well, not in this country."
Mr. Cooter said that members were notified of the meeting more than 30 days in advance and that those who voted were qualified to do so. He also said that the vice chairman had the power to call the meeting to order if the chairman was unable or unwilling to.
Mr. Gargan's attorney, Tracey Lenox, argued that last month's proceedings violated both Robert's Rules of Order and the party's constitution.
Three pro-Gargan witnesses Thursday also testified that some of the people who voted to oust Mr. Gargan were not registered voters of the Reform Party or were not properly credentialed.
Judge Moon called the feud "a tragedy" and said he would not rule on the basis of which side he felt was more fit to be in charge, but instead would do what he felt was fair to both sides.
Judge Moon likened the case to a divorce, saying: "It shouldn't happen, but it did."
Mr. Cooter suggested Mr. Gargan let his power go to his head after he was elected chairman on Jan. 1.
"Isn't it true that you told the executive committee that their relationship to you was as the Cabinet is to a president?" Mr. Cooter asked, referring to the minutes of an earlier meeting.
"No sir that was not my intention," Mr. Gargan said, asserting that minutes taken at many Reform Party proceedings were unorganized and often inaccurate.
Mr. Cooter argued that Mr. Gargan's job as chairman was to carry out the resolutions of the executive committee. He also said that, according to the party's constitution, the executive committee has the power to overrule the chairman.

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