(BPI) LOS ANGELES‹The vice chairman of the Screen Actors Guild committee overseeing the ballot counts in next week's vote on the proposed merger of SAG and AFTRA has resigned in the wake of alleged ballot tampering in the Nov. 16 SAG election.
Eugene Boggs, a SAG board member, said he resigned as vice chair of the guild's Merger Referendum Oversight Committee because he was unhappy with SAG's decision to drop any further investigation into alleged wrongdoing in the election of board members to SAG's powerful National Executive Committee.
Meanwhile, SAG third vp Paul Napier also threatened to resign as chairman of the committee in the wake of the foul-up, but is reconsidering after SAG president Richard Masur asked him to stay.
Napier told Masur that he wants to quit the post rather than be dragged into another dispute over ballot counts.
"I have spoken to Richard," Napier said. "He's appealing to me to stay on. We're in a state of flux right now. I don't want to add any undue cause for questioning the outcome (of the merger vote). It's up in the air right now. I'm reconsidering."
"It is extremely important," Masur said of the merger vote, "that the credibility of the ballot count in SAG be accepted by the broadest possible range of members. Since Paul Napier, who has always been highly honorable and scrupulous about his activities within and on behalf of SAG, has been chairing the Merger Referendum Oversight Committee since its formation, it's extremely important to me personally and to the board that he see this responsibility through to its conclusion."
Boggs, however, said his resignation from the merger oversight committee is "irreversible." Boggs was one of the SAG board members most directly affected by the ballot miscount. When the NEC ballots were first counted Nov. 16, Boggs finished just out of the running to win one of nine open NEC seats.
A recount, however, determined that the first count was way off the mark. The recount found 26 discrepancies in the vote totals for 15 of the 18 NEC candidates. Boggs was elected to the NEC after the second count was verified as being correct.
Former California Supreme Court Judge Joseph Grodin, who was hired by SAG to investigate the election, determined that the miscount was probably due to "intentional wrongdoing" on the part of one or more of the three SAG staffers [Katherine Moore, SAG's director of communications; Catherine York, SAG's director of government relations; and Judy Carpenter, administrative assistant to SAG's Hollywood executive director] who had initially counted the ballots.
"Based on my own analysis," Grodin wrote, "it seems exceedingly unlikely that the disparity reflected in the first tally was the product of accident...By a process of elimination, therefore, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the most probable explanation for the disparity lies in some intentional wrongdoing on the part of the first-tally tellers, or at least one or more of them."
Grodin, however, stressed that he could not even say definitively that fraud had been committed by one or more of the three staffers, all of whom vigorously maintained their innocence.
Indeed, Grodin wrote: "If I were assessing the credibility of the three (staffers) on the basis of their demeanor, body language, consistency and what I know of their character and reputations, I would find no basis to question their veracity."
The three staffers enraged SAG's dissidents when they told the judge that they believed that members of the Performers' Alliance‹a group of dissident SAG board members to which Boggs belongs‹had somehow switched the ballots after they counted them.
Grodin's report found that scenario "unlikely in the extreme" and concluded that the second ballot count "was an accurate tally of the...ballots."
In the end, SAG's national board decided that since Judge Grodin could not get to the bottom of the matter, it was unlikely that anyone else would either, and the best thing to do would be to drop the matter and move on with the guild's business.
The motion passed by the national board stated "in the best interest of the guild and its members, the board of directors hereby declares this unfortunate matter closed, finding no fault with any of the participants in the Hollywood NEC election process and clearing all their names of any taint of wrongdoing. This action is the final action that will (be) taken by the guild in this matter."
Another factor in dropping the matter, the board said, was "the lack of confidentiality throughout this matter has allowed it to be played out in the press, causing unnecessary harm to the good names and reputations of all involved, as well as the prestige of SAG."
Boggs, who called the board's final decision "completely wrong-headed," said he had "no choice ethically and as a matter of principle" but to resign from the NEC and as vice chair of the merger oversight committee.
Boggs reasoned that he has been tainted by the NEC election scandal because though no one has been officially accused of any wrongdoing, no one has been completely exonerated, either.
"Service on the Referendum Oversight Committee was always a potential minefield," Boggs wrote in his letter of resignation. "I feel particularly vulnerable now, given my role in the NEC election investigation, to being set up for special scrutiny and criticism should there be any irregularities in this election. And I greatly fear such irregularities with a hand-count (of the ballots) such as this."