The War at Judicial Watch

Every once in a while, Legal Times produces a lengthy article that pulls back the curtain and take a look behind the public rhetoric of some right-wing group to expose the sometimes sordid dealings that are going on internally.

Back in 2005, it published just such a piece about Jay Sekulow and his work at the American Center for Law and Justice yet, oddly, the article generated very little coverage and Sekulow continues to ply his trade at the ACLJ to this day. 

With that in mind, I doubt that this new article about the in-fighting that it taking place at Judicial Watch will generate much coverage, though it certainly should as it contains a variety of allegations regarding financial improprieties and maritial infidelity, primarily on behalf of the organzation’s founder Larry Klayman:

The quarrel stretches back to Sep­tem­ber 2003, when Klayman announced he was leaving Judicial Watch to stage a Senate campaign in Florida, which would ultimately end with him finishing last in the Republican primary. In his April 2006 complaint, Klayman alleged that before departing as chairman, he had discovered that [current Judicial Watch president Tom] Fitton had never earned a college degree. According to the complaint, Fitton allegedly promised to find a “distinguished and qualified” chairman to lead the group, but instead grabbed control of Judicial Watch and tried to push his former boss out of the public spotlight.

As he put it in an affidavit filed later in the case, Klayman believed that Fitton had done “everything he could to harm and financially weaken” Klayman to keep him from taking back command of the group. Among the complaint’s many allegations, Fitton had supposedly threatened media organizations with legal action to keep Klayman off the air, fired employees loyal to Klayman, and damaged his reputation with former clients. The complaint also contended that Judicial Watch had lied on its tax forms by claiming that Klayman owed it money.

All the while, the complaint alleged, the organization’s war chest under Fitton’s management shrunk to between $8 million and $9 million, down from about $20 million when Klayman left.

Judicial Watch shot back with a counter­claim accusing Klayman of failing to cover the debts he had accumulated as chairman and of violating the terms of his severance agreement. As part of a negotiated goodbye package, Judicial Watch had paid Klayman a total of $600,000, including $200,000 in return for signing a noncompete clause, according to the counterclaim. By founding Freedom Watch, Klayman had violated that part of the contract, the counterclaim stated. And by waging a public campaign to oust Judicial Watch’s current leadership—an effort that included letters to Judicial Watch donors, ads in major newspapers, and a Web site titled—Klayman had also allegedly broken a clause barring him from disparaging the group, while infringing on a handful of trademarks along the way, the counterclaim alleged.

The June 2006 document also suggested a different reason for Klayman’s departure, stating that “Judicial Watch discovered circumstances that necessitated Klayman’s resignation from the organization.” The group made its meaning explicit in May 2007, when it filed an amended version of its counterclaim stating that Klayman had been forced to resign after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with a Judicial Watch staffer. Judicial Watch alleged that the relationship was about to come to light because of Klayman’s impending divorce, meaning he would no longer be able to serve as the head of a “pro-family” organization. The document also referenced accusations by his ex-wife, with whom Klayman is locked in a bitter child custody battle, that he had physically assaulted her.