The American Numismatic Association’s legal problems continue as its former executive director Larry Shepherd has filed a lawsuit against the ANA and its general counsel Ronald Sirna in an Illinois court, claiming that the ANA and Sirna made false accusations against Shepherd.
Shepherd is seeking punitive damages in an amount in excess of $5 million and is requesting that attorneys’ fees and costs be assessed by the court against Sirna and the ANA.
A Dec. 19, 2012, ANA press release stated: “There is no merit to any of the allegations contained in the lawsuit, and it will be vigorously defended. The ANA will make no further comment with regard to this pending litigation.”
The press release added that the ANA is represented by Chicago-based attorney Jody Moran, a partner of Jackson Lewis LLP, adding that any inquiries should be directed solely to Moran.
Shepherd filed the lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., on Aug. 14, 2012, but did not serve the ANA until Dec. 3, according to the ANA. Moran declined to answer Coin World’s inquiry on when the ANA actually was served, stating that she could not comment on pending litigation.
The ANA was only able to confirm the Dec. 3, 2012, date after an online search showed that ANA President Tom Hallenbeck made a statement on the subject providing the date. Sirna’s Oct. 20, 2012, legal report at the open ANA Board meeting stated that there was no pending litigation at that time.
A troubled history
Shepherd was the ANA’s executive director from March 2008 through September 2011. He was selected by the ANA Board of Governors on March 6, 2008, from a field of 37 candidates. Barry Stuppler, then the ANA president, announced the hiring March 7, 2008, at the opening ceremony of the ANA’s National Money Show in Phoenix, Ariz.
Shepherd stated at the time, “Better times are coming; either that or I’ll die trying.”
Shepherd is a life member of the ANA and at the time of his hiring, Stuppler characterized Shepherd as “well-respected in the numismatic community with a well-earned reputation for integrity.”
The ANA announced on Sept. 28, 2011, that it had ended its employment relationship with Shepherd after a unanimous vote of the board on Sept. 20. Shepherd told Coin World Sept. 29, 2011, that he had received a letter dated Sept. 20 informing him of the board’s action, and indicated that he was surprised by the manner in which the announcement was made, stating at the time, “I was not aware of the news release or what it stated until people started calling me a few minutes after it was sent to ANA members by email Sept. 28.”
Shepherd added in the recent filing that he was called to a meeting at the August 2011 Chicago ANA convention, where the board accused Shepherd of inappropriate conduct toward various employees, improper conduct of his duties and potential financial irregularities.
Shepherd’s filing states that the accusations were intended to harm and discredit him “because he had found evidence of substantial theft of ANA property and irregularities in ANA accounting by ANA’s own attorney, Defendant Sirna.” It further states, “As a result of the slanderous statements made by Defendants, Shepherd has suffered damages in the form of substantial loss of income as well as reputation and other damages.”
Ongoing battle of words
On Oct. 6, 2011, the ANA Board of Governors issued a statement, with governor and past president Clifford Mishler stating, “Having participated as a board member in both the hiring and termination of Larry Shepherd as executive director of the American Numismatic Association, I want to express my deep disappointment that a relationship that commenced with great optimism has concluded on such a sour note. In both instances the decisions were unanimous. Unfortunately, a commitment which commenced with great promise, transitioned into one of such great disappointment.”
Mishler reiterated his view in a Nov. 28, 2012, letter published in Numismatic News where he wrote: “When I ran in 2011 to serve a third term on the board, I did so because I believed the then-serving executive director had established the organization on the right path to achieve full recovery from its recent misfortunes and assure its future growth potential, and I wished to continue supporting that quest. Unfortunately, I discovered that the effort being put forth was pitifully deceptive.”
In a Dec. 14, 2012, email to Coin World, Shepherd responded to Mishler’s letter, writing, “He [Mishler] makes a malicious and defamatory statement about me, despite the fact he has never had the fortitude to meet with me, or talk to me, and give me an opportunity to defend myself against false rumors and fabricated allegations.”
The lawsuit claims that the ANA and Sirna committed slander in that false oral statements made at the 2011 Chicago ANA convention “impugned the personal and professional integrity, ethics, and skill of Shepherd both in business and especially as a numismatic [sic] who would be possessed of the skills necessary to manage and maintain an organization such as ANA.”
The lawsuit states that “as a result of these libelous statements, Shepherd suffered lost income, embarrassment, emotional distress, and suffered a general loss of reputation in his business and personal life.”
The lawsuit claims in a second count of false light that the statements made by the ANA and Sirna attacking Shepherd in his professional capacity would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.
The third count claims tortious interference with prospective business relationships in that the statements caused “Shepherd substantial financial loss as well as damage to his reputation and ability to bring future numismatic ventures to fruition.” The filing adds that the ANA and Sirna deliberately sabotaged a business relationship that, but for the slanderous statements, would have provided Shepherd with “a fruitful and profitable business venture which would serve not only his own benefit, but also the local numismatic community and others to be served by the project.” It does not make clear what this business relationship was. ■