Mysterious Departure

Why did the ACLU's legal director hit the road?

Teitelbaum hints of an internal skirmish when asked why she's stepping down, but she stresses, "It is not something that needs to be the subject of an article."

News of Lieberman's exit coincided with last month's contentious ACLU annual meeting, when members shot down the proposed slate of board officers, including incumbent president Adam Zaretsky and three other sitting officers.

Some members raised fierce objections to the board's nominating process, and later, a group led by St. Louis media attorney Mark Sableman successfully petitioned for the right to hold a special election.

On July 31, for the first time since anyone can remember, two people will square off for the board presidency: Zaretsky, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and Ray Hartmann, founder and former publisher of the Riverfront Times.

"We need to be more on the offense publicly," says Hartmann. "We also have some internal issues, like accountability to the board, openness and the need to treat people who have been stalwarts of the ACLU with respect. That's really all I have to say on that."

Zaretsky did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

"Before I left, I could never have predicted that there'd be a movement to remove the officers," says former executive director Matt LeMieux. Nevertheless, LeMieux thinks some members remain bitter over changes he pushed Zaretsky to put forward last year. The proposals, including a board member rotation policy, seemed "radical" to a board whose majority held their seats for fifteen years or more, LeMieux says. "But they were much needed to breathe new life into the organization."

Brenda Jones says if members are ruffled, it's just because they need more time to warm to her leadership.

"We're becoming more focused on public education and community outreach," Jones explains. "We've even begun to look into some possibilities for chapters outside the St. Louis area, such as in the bootheel. It's time to look around and expand our capacity, do some other things."

Jones says the ACLU's unpaid staff attorney, Jim Felakos, will pinch-hit for Lieberman until the organization finds a new legal director.

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