Allege numerous improper procedures, five fellow board members and CEO Iain Higgins sued
Two USA Cricket board members have filed a lawsuit against other board members as well as the chief executive of the organisation, alleging numerous improper procedures tied to the latest cycle of delayed elections. ESPNcricinfo has obtained a copy of the lawsuit, filed on March 8, in which Venu Pisike and Srini Salver filed the claim, and also listed USA Cricket as a co-plaintiff, but in which they have sued five fellow board members along with CEO Iain Higgins.
USA Cricket issued a statement late on Friday evening, calling aspects of the suit “meritless” and arguing that fighting the suit could affect plans for the year: “If… it is required to further divert some of those limited resources into defending the organization from meritless legal claims and protecting the rights of its new membership, the Board will have no choice but to consider cutting some of its planned cricketing activities and developmental activities for 2021 and is scheduled to meet early next week to consider which activities must be scaled back.”
The dispute, a throwback to the days of the expelled USA Cricket Association (USACA), stems from a series of administrative decisions from November 2020 in which the five board members are alleged to have voted in favour of approving a membership referendum to change voting procedures for the next election. The referendum called for an exception to be made in this election to allow new members to register to vote and grant immediate voting rights rather than allowing voting rights to be given after a 12-month membership, as required in the constitution.
The plaintiffs allege that the five board members violated the constitution and claim that the referendum – sent out to USA Cricket’s 725 members at the time in November 2020 – did not receive the 67% supermajority as required. The five are alleged to have voted to approve the referendum with a simple majority (between 51% and 66%) of individual member votes. The lawsuit also alleges that Higgins tampered with the referendum voting process by having access to in-progress tracking of votes electronically submitted ahead of the final voting deadline, and that he directly contacted members who had yet to vote to encourage them to vote in favour of the referendum.
In December, USA Cricket claimed that the referendum was approved by the board of directors “alongside independent legal advice that had been obtained from its expert legal counsel”, but didn’t state that it had passed with a 67% supermajority. USA Cricket refused to make public full voting results when asked by ESPNcricinfo, saying it was a “confidential” matter.
The consequence of the resolution has been to expand the voting base from 725 members to nearly 20,000. Higgins has previously stated that passing of the referendum was to ensure “a more inclusive governance structure moving forward”. At least 141 leagues were subsequently listed by USA Cricket in which clubs and leagues were eligible to align themselves as part of the expanded individual membership sign-up period ending on March 15.
A successful lawsuit could potentially be beneficial to someone like Pisike. Of the 725 members, 232 (32%) were based in Georgia, which is Pisike’s home territory and was a significant factor in his re-election. Expanding that would dilute a power base.
In contrast, a board member like Ajith Bhaskar of New York, might gain from expanded membership. Bhaskar, a defendant in the suit, is currently up for reelection and New York is one of several areas believed to have experienced a strong surge in new membership registrations since the referendum was approved.
Separately, the lawsuit also alleges that the process to reappoint Paraag Marathe to a second term as board chairman was unconstitutional. Marathe’s first term began following the August 2018 elections, in which seven newly voted-in board members chose him from among three independent directors – Marathe, Catherine Carlson and Rohan Sajdeh – to become the inaugural chairman. Marathe’s initial two-year term on the board technically came to an end last August, but prolonged delays have resulted in another election not yet taking place.
The lawsuit claims that by the constitution a new chairman may only be elected following the Annual General Meeting after a constituent election. Currently, the terms of three board members – Suraj Vishwanathan, Bhaskar and Nadia Gruny – are up for re-election. But the lawsuit claims that multiple board members, whose terms have expired in August 2020, were allowed to vote in violation of the constitution to reappoint Marathe, rather than waiting for election results in which potentially different replacements on the board may vote differently.
The suit also claims that USA Cricket violated the constitution by not having the current elections and an AGM by November 30, 2020. The constitution states an AGM and elections must be held by the end of November every year. However, there was no AGM or election in 2019, instead delayed to February 2020.
The question likely to arise is whether or not a legal interpretation would determine that the February 2020 elections should retroactively be regarded as the 2019 election.
Regardless, Pisike and Salver are seeking an injunction to block the current election process from allowing it to continue. Instead, the suit argues that the 725 USA Cricket individual members that were in place as of November 2020 should be the ones allowed to vote and that they have since been disenfranchised by having their memberships, stripped and required to go through a fresh registration process. The suit also seeks to remove Marathe pending the results of the upcoming election.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo’s USA correspondent @PeterDellaPenna