The Harvard Cooperative Society and one of the company's former directors squared off for a legal firefight yesterday over Coop election procedures.
In a letter to Milton P. Brown. Filene Professor of Retailing at the Business School and president of the Coop, former director Donald Steele threatened a lawsuit against the society by this Friday unless it approves his rejected nominating petition of last spring.
The petition, which carried over 130 names, nominated Steele to the Board of Directors, a position-he-quit in 1971 to accept a job as manager of the Coop's Law School branch. Lawyers for the Coop disqualified over 40 of the names for violations of form, leaving Steele 11 short of the 100 signatures needed to place him on the ballot.
Steele decided to run again for the board last February, after he quit the Law School post to protest Coop hiring policies and pension changes.
The threatened lawsuit, according to Steele's letter, will probe the legitimacy of the current Board of Directors. Steele said that last year's decision by the Board to shift elections from fall to spring effectively disenfranchised freshman Coop members, since the elected officers do not begin serving until the following fall.
Coop by-laws forbid actions which reduce the voting power of members without their approval in a referendum.
"If he takes us to court, we'll see what the court says." Louis Loss, general counsel to the Coop and Cromwell Professor of Law, said yesterday. Loss added that the Coop offered to seek a "declaratory judgement" on the case at the society's expense last June, but that Steele had left town for the summer.
Steele and Loss took issue over the disposition of last spring's nominating petition. Loss argued that a cursory examination had shown it to be invalid, and that a "rigorous check" by an outside law firm had confirmed the opinion.
"If a petition is not valid, under the by- laws the Coop has no right to spend $5000 for an election." Loss said.
Steele noted that out of 14 Harvard signatures turned down for lack of University designation, eight belonged to professors, administrators, research fellows, and librarians. "It should be obvious to anyone glancing at the respective petition pages that ... all are at Harvard," he said.
Steele also said that the Coop had shown itself to be inconsistent because it approved the signature of Frederic Hewitt Smith, a current Coop director despite the absence of any University designation