Jury to resume deliberations in NAACP trial today Group renews its plea to be considered a victim

June 06, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The NAACP urged jurors yesterday to consider it "an innocent victim caught in the cross-fire" of charges between former Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. and Mary E. Stansel, the one-time aide who accused him of forcing her to have sex.

A District of Columbia Superior Court jury deliberated for two hours before being excused until today in the civil trial of Stansel's contract dispute with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The jury of seven women and two men is to decide whether the NAACP shares liability with Chavis for $245,200 owed to Stansel under a 1993 settlement. A judge has already found Chavis personally liable for the deal. The NAACP seeks to recover $87,200 already paid to Stansel.

The Baltimore-based NAACP, the nation's largest civil rights group, was plunged into crisis when the Chavis-Stansel deal became public in 1994. Chavis was fired, then-Chairman William F. Gibson was later ousted, and donations declined sharply.

In two hours of closing arguments yesterday, lawyers portrayed their clients as victims of the other parties to the suit.

Stansel lawyer Richard B. Nettler said she was the victim of the NAACP's "broken promise" to pay her up to $332,400 if Chavis did not get her the offer of a high-paying job. He said Stansel had every reason to believe the NAACP had authorized Chavis to make the deal.

"We are not here to judge anyone's character," Nettler told the jury. "We are here for one purpose: to correct a wrong that has been done, to hold the NAACP liable for its broken promise."

Lawrence S. Greenwald, representing the NAACP, said the civil rights group was the victim of an unauthorized "secret deal" Chavis made to protect his own financial interest. He said Chavis and Stansel tried to cover up the deal.

Abbey G. Hairston, Chavis' lawyer, said her client had "already paid" because the NAACP used the Stansel deal as a pretext to fire him. She said Chavis was trying to protect the NAACP and violated no established practice by retaining an outside law firm to settle the Stansel matter without telling the NAACP's top lawyer.

"The victim in this case is not the NAACP, not Mary Stansel, it's Dr. Chavis," she said. "The wisdom of his decision is not an issue. The issue is, did he have authority to do what he did? Did he do it in the interests of the NAACP? I believe that he did."

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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