California attorney general investigates transitions at In Defense of Animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2012:

California attorney general investigates transitions at In Defense of Animals

SAN RAFAEL, California– Enduring a rocky transition from the leadership of founder Elliot M. Katz, DVM, In Defense of Animals has a new chief executive for at least the fourth time in three years.

“IDA has hired Joe Haptas,” board president Marilyn Kroplick, M.D. told ANIMAL PEOPLE on July 6, 2012, confirming weeks of rumors. Kroplick, a Southern California child and geriatric psychiatrist, has headed the IDA board since late 2011.

Haptas, 44, has been involved both in animal advocacy and nonprofit management for most of his life.

“I’m a long time animal advocate, having worked a couple stints with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals,” Haptas posted to introduce his blog Epicurean Vegetarian Reflections, online since 2007, “along with previously being the director of both the Northwest Animal Right Network and the Margaret Kyros Foundation of Seattle. I’m also a co-founder of the Humane Research Council,” a Seattle-based organization formed in 2000 by longtime local activist Che Green.

“My last position,” Haptas continued, “was as director of outreach at the Marijuana Policy Project, where my work focused on lobbying doctors, legislators, and organizations to take more affirmative stands on medical marijuana. I am currently plotting the next step to world conquest,” Haptas jocularly concluded.

Katz, 78, who started In Defense of Animals in 1983, retired from active day-to-day management in 2009, but has remained involved in the organization as director emeritus. Former International Fund for Animal Welfare disaster relief coordinator Anand Ramanathan succeeded Katz as executive director, but lasted just a year. His successor, Scotlund Haisley, who had previously held leadership positions with Washington Animal Rescue League, Peninsula Humane Society, New York City Center for Animal Care & Control, and PETA, lasted less than four months. Haisley went on to found an organization called Animal Rescue Corps.

The first two years of the post-Katz transition at IDA also saw the exits of enior staff members Suzanne Roy, now campaign director for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, and Matt Rosell, now communications director for Animal Defenders International. In addition, Los Angeles animal rights attorney Terri Macellaro left the IDA board.

An extensive complaint sent to California attorney general Kamala D. Harris by former IDA board member Lori Hyland alleges that the next IDA executive director was to be 30-year animal welfare worker Neil Trent, chosen by the board in April 2011. Beginning as an inspector for Royal SPCA of Britain, Trent subsequently served with the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Humane Society International, the Marin County Humane Society in California, and the Longmont Humane Society in Colorado. Trent now heads the Animal Welfare League in Arlington, Virginia.

According to Hyland’s complaint, hiring Trent was repeatedly delayed and eventually scuttled by opposition from Katz and another now former board member, Michael Bailey. The interim executive director during this time was staff member Louise Franklin, but Hyland contends that Bailey assumed a senior management role despite allegations of sexual harassment brought against him by members of the IDA staff. The Hyland complaint includes a letter from one staff member asking the IDA board to act in response to her claim that she was sexually harassed, preliminary to the possibility of her filing a lawsuit.

The Hyland complaint also includes a December 6, 2011 letter to the IDA board from Los Angeles attorney Craig Marcus, representing Hyland and another former IDA oard member, Cliff Nichols, which demands that Hyland and Nichols be reinstated to the board, after they were voted off in November 2011. “IDA has an affirmative legal obligation to thoroughly investigate these allegations [of sexual harassment] and take all appropriate remedial action,” Marcus reminded. “Failure to do so exposes IDA to considerable potential liability. Prior to their wrongful termination, Mrs. Hyland and Mr. Nichols repeatedly urged IDA and the remaining directors to undertake this necessary investigation,” Marcus wrote.

The last pages of Hyland’s complaint include an e-mail from Kroplick to Bailey dated January 22, 2012, thanking Bailey for his services apparently by way of termination; an IDA board resolution dated January 23, 2012, removing Bailey from the board for a list of alleged inappropriate conduct, including reimbursement of legal costs in connection with the sexual harassment claims; and an e-mail from Kroplick to Hyland dated January 24, 2012, mentioning that the IDA employee who wrote to the board about Bailey was still working for IDA and “doing very well” with new responsibilities.

Removing Bailey from the board left Kroplick as temporarily the only IDA board member. Also on January 23, 2012 Kroplick, acting as the IDA board, dismissed three female employees due to “concern and a collection of evidence that lead the remaining board member to believe that there has been a misappropriation of funds of the nonprofit company.”

There were no other board members at the time because Virginia psychiatrist Murry Cohen, M.D., was voted off the board soon after Hyland and Nichols, days after Cohen brought to the notice of the board–at request of a senior staff member–that IDA was mailing fundraising appeals for at least two campaigns that no longer existed, based on information that was more than 10 years old. “Now I have three jobs: psychiatrist, president of the IDA board, and shadow IDA executive director,” Cohen e-mailed to the other board members. “This is an emergency. Unless corrected, it could mean the end of IDA.”

Acting in response to the Hyland complaint, representatives of the California attorney general’s office visited the IDA offices on June 13, 2012 to collect relevant documents. “Attorney general’s office staff notified us by mail a couple of weeks ago that they wanted to inspect IDA’s records, campaign materials, etcetra,” Katz told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “The information needed to be available to them at our San Rafael office. They spent time in our office examining the records and documents they had requested. That is about it to date. I have stepped down from the presidency of IDA, as well as from the IDA board,” Katz added. “Since the attorney general’s investigation is a board matter, it was decided that I not be the point person for questions or concerns involving the attorney general’s investigation.”

Katz referred further questions to Kroplick, who declined to comment.

Much of the Hyland complaint pertains to financial issues, including investments in mortgages that allegedly led to significant losses. The two most recent IDA filings of IRS Form 990 show a combined total of $364,472 in “bad debt expense,” declared as a program expense. But while the $2.7 million that IDA raised in 2010 was less than in any year since 2002, coinciding with an operating loss of $836,094, IDA raised $4.3 million in 2011–a new high, topping the previous high of $3.9 million raised in 2007.

–Merritt Clifton

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.