A lawsuit has been filed against five directors of the USA Cricket board and Chief Executive Officer Iain Higgins by two board directors, including USA Cricket as a co-plaintiff.
Individual Director Venu Pisike and Player Director Srini Salver have filed suit against Independent Director and Chairman Paraag Marathe, Individual Director Suraj Viswanathan, Club Director Ajith Bhaskar, League Director Sushil Nadkarni, Independent Director Catherine Carlson and Chief Executive Officer Iain Higgins over alleged “breaches of their fiduciary duties as directors and/or officers of USA Cricket, and for ultra vires acts taken by the Individual Defendants on behalf of USA Cricket.”
The lawsuit centers around board activities surrounding the 2020 election.
In November of 2020, the board approved a membership referendum asking that special conditions be applied for the 2021 election which would extend voting rights to all USA Cricket members, instead of granting them to only those who had been members for one year, as originally defined in the USA Cricket Constitution.
In December the board announced that the resolution passed, noting “the results of the vote alongside independent legal advice that had been obtained from its expert legal counsel. Based on that advice, the Board agreed that the membership resolution had been approved in accordance with the applicable constitutional requirements.”
Filed on March 8 in the District Court of Boulder, Colorado, the lawsuit alleges multiple violations of constitutionally defined processes related to USA Cricket membership eligibility and elections. Specifically, the lawsuit:
1. Alleges that the Individual Defendants voted to pass the referendum by a simple majority instead of the constitutionally defined requirement of a 67% supermajority. This extended the window for membership registration, allowing USA Cricket to grow membership from 723 registered members in 2020 to roughly 20,000 currently.
2. Alleges that CEO Iain Higgins had access to monitor electronic votes and that he reached out to members who had not yet voted in order to influence their decision.
3. Alleges that Individual Defendants were not constitutionally eligible to vote for the Independent Director position, suggesting that their terms had officially expired in August, thus depriving yet to be elected board members their right to participate in selection of a new Independent Director during their upcoming term. All but two board members voted for Paraag Marathe to retain his role as Chairman.
4. Alleges that the Individual Directors failed to hold the election and the Annual General Meeting by the constitutionally defined date of November 30, 2020.
As with 2020, the 2019 elections did not happen within the same year, instead being delayed until February of 2020 along with the 2019 AGM.
The plaintiffs seek an injunction to stop the current election process and nullify the eligibility of any voters not defined as eligible according to the original requirements as written in the constitution. This would revert the eligible voter count back to the 723 person electorate from November 2020.
The plaintiffs would also nullify Marathe’s re-election as Independent Director and postpone it until after the upcoming election when a potentially new board makeup could be in place.
Cricinfo’s Peter Della Penna dissected the 723 person electorate as of November 2020, as well as the potential new 20,000 member electorate as of the end of the recent membership drive.
The numbers show that Georgia, Venu Pisike’s home base, made up 32.1% of the total voting eligible membership as of November 2020. Pisike is not up for re-election in this cycle, but he did win re-election in the previous election in February of 2020, which was held beyond the constitutionally defined November 30, 2019 deadline.
Interestingly, Vishwanathan’s “territory” of California makes up the second largest voting base in the 2020 electorate, with 107 voting members, and NY/NJ, home base to Ajith Bhaskar, makes up the third largest voting base, with 86 voting members combined. Both Bhaskar and Vishwanathan are up for re-election in this cycle.
One could infer the potential for a nation-wide election to be decided by a single, unified community with such a disproportionately large voting block. Looking at the current 2021 membership makeup, one can see that a larger voting base more proportionally represents the cricketing landscape of the country, and also significantly lessens the voting power of the 2020 leader. ‘Since membership referendum, membership has opened up from 723 to about 20,000. Of that, 18 leagues in California (Vishwanathan territory, up for reelection), 18 leagues in Texas, 18 leagues in NY/NJ (Bhaskar zone, up for reelection) have registered, compared to 7 in Georgia,’ Della Penna said in his tweet thread on the subject.
According to a release from USA Cricket on the matter, the lawsuit has ‘put in serious jeopardy the significant progress that has been made to develop the sport in the US over the past couple of years, and the full calendar of cricketing and developmental activities that has been planned for 2021.’
Lawsuits within feuding members of the board are sadly nothing new to governing bodies of cricket in the United States. After failing to ratify an ICC-approved constitution, USACA, then-NGB for cricket in the US, was expelled by the International Cricket Council in 2017. By that time, the board had been suspended thrice within 12 years, and had accumulated crushing debt thanks in part to legal fees from court battles between board members, including a lawsuit centered around the 2012 general election.
Considering the details of this current situation, it could be meaningful to note that another of the ICC’s justifications for the expulsion of USACA was that the NGB failed to represent the majority of cricketers, clubs and leagues around the United States.
In 2015, The ICC interviewed more than 100 stakeholders in the US cricketing community and concluded that the board did not have a trustworthy reputation in the national community. The results found that USACA membership represented only 20-25% of USA stakeholders, and bolstered the ICC’s case to suspend USACA that same June. The report also alleged false leagues that existed in membership only, election fraud, and obstruction of financial oversight.
The negative news comes only weeks before the much anticipated Men’s Youth National Championships, scheduled for Houston in April.
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