By Damien and Simcha Fisher
The fallout continues after the affair between Texas Right to Life’s Jim Graham and Veritatis Splendor’s Kari Beckman, now threatening the existence of the Lone Star State’s most influential pro-life organization.
“The viability of Texas Right to Life is at risk,” claims a lawsuit filed this week by Elizabeth Graham, Jim Graham’s wife.
The lawsuit claims that Texas Right to Life, which was the major force behind the controversial “Texas Heartbeat Act” (SB8), has been in tatters and is rife with infighting after Graham’s husband was forced to resign in October. Elizabeth Graham claims board member Rich DeOtte is using her husband’s disgrace to seize control of the organization, humiliate her, and force her out.
“The purpose of these efforts is to, quite obviously, elevate himself as ‘saviour’ of the organization, take over its helm, and lead its operations,” Elizabeth Graham’s attorney, Brock Akers, wrote in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday.
DeOtte did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday. Walter Pate, a Texas Right to Life board member and another named defendant, declined to comment when reached.
“There is a suit that’s been filed and I cannot speak about it. I don’t trust the press. I don’t trust the press,” Pate said.
The lawsuit includes 50 named plaintiffs: Elizabeth Graham and various stakeholders of the group. That list includes Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in his personal capacity. Miller did not respond to a request for comment.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry was also listed as a plaintiff in the original complaint, but was removed in the amended complaint filed this week.
When Jim Graham was forced to resign as president of Texas Right to Life in October after his affair with Beckman was revealed, Graham’s wife Elizabeth, who was then serving as vice president, took his place. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the organization from ousting her as president.
The lawsuit claims that DeOtte started maneuvering to get Elizabeth Graham removed as soon as she became president. He declared himself chairman of the board, a position that previously did not exist, and he put Teresa Doyle into an interim executive director’s position, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit states that Elizabeth Graham, as president, pushed for severance payments for her husband after his affair threatened both her marriage and the organization. The narrative in the lawsuit is somewhat unclear, but seems to imply that DeOtte used those severance negotiations as leverage to cement his new position as chairman.
Throughout these weeks of strife with the board, Elizabeth Graham was also dealing with the emotional devastation wrought by her husband’s affair, according to the lawsuit. Those close to her urged her to take time off.
“Plaintiff Elizabeth Graham was feeling the need and interest in taking such time off, but was nervous about the continued machinations of the Board members, much of which was going on behind her back,” the lawsuit states.
She was finally assured by Doyle and by another named defendant, human resources consultant and board member Jeff Lowery, that she could safely take time off and return to her job with Texas Right to Life, according to the lawsuit. She was directed by the board’s outside attorney, David Gibbs, not to spend any Texas Right to Life money while she was away.
Elizabeth Graham went on sabbatical from Dec. 14 through March 14. Within weeks of her departure, Lowery raised Doyle’s salary by $35,000, and also raised the salary of nearly all Texas Right to Life employees. Texas Right to Life is a non profit and is, according to the lawsuit, dependent entirely on donations.
“Without an official Board meeting, the raise for new Executive Director Teresa Doyle was put in place along with raises for all other members of the TxRTL staff. Everyone, that is, except Plaintiff Elizabeth Graham,” the lawsuit states. Graham, in fact, was demoted while she was gone.
Elizabeth Graham returned from her sabbatical and found that not only had she alone not gotten a raise, and must now report to Doyle.
“Plaintiff was dumbfounded, hurt, and left wondering how the events which came to light in October, of which she was frankly a victim not a participant, could have resulted in this turn of events,” the lawsuit states.
Before she returned to work in March, Gibbs told Elizabeth Graham that she could not go to the office until she met with Doyle and Lowery to discuss her newly demoted role. Graham was also told the annual board meeting, set for this week, would now take place offsite from the Texas Right to Life offices in Houston, which she took as an affront.
Elizabeth Graham responded by getting her own lawyer, and on March 22, Gibbs sent Graham a letter terminating her employment. The lawsuit accuses DeOtte and others of violating Texas Right to Life’s bylaws by firing her without following the correct procedures. She is seeking an injunction against Texas Right to Life over her termination. A hearing on the injunction is set for April 12 in the 165th District Court in Houston.
The struggle for control of Texas Right to Life echoes a similar upheaval at the organization headed by Kari Beckman, Jim Graham’s partner in the illicit affair that led to his own ouster.
Graham inherited control of Texas Right to Life from his father, Joseph Graham, who co-founded the organization in 1973; and Jim Graham continued as president and executive director until the revelation of a scandalous affair with Beckman in October. Beckman was at that time spearheading Veritatis Splendor, a utopian megadevelopment for Catholic families in rural Winona, TX. After the affair between Graham and Beckman was revealed, Graham resigned from Texas Right to Life, and Beckman, after pressure from her own board, eventually resigned from Veritatis Splendor and also from another organization she founded, a Catholic homeschool hybrid called Regina Caeli.
Beckman was also accused of various forms of financial misconduct, using funds from Regina Caeli to pad Veritatis Splendor’s accounts, and for her own personal use. After Beckman was pushed out, Regina Caeli eventually restructured and reconstituted its board of directors to divest itself of any potential influence by Beckman.
Texas Right to Life has not responded to any request for comment.