Ousted National Arts Club president, others sue to retain apartments

By Adam Pincus | December 28, 2012 06:30PM

Former National Arts Club President O. Aldon James, his twin brother John James, both 65, and former club member Steven Leitner, 81, filed a petition today in New York State Supreme Court seeking to block a February decision by the club to expel them. If the three men are expelled, they would no longer be permitted to live in their below-market rate apartments in the building located at 15 Gramercy Park South, between Park Avenue South and Third Avenue.

The new filing names the club, its board of governors as well as seven individual officers and governors of the club as respondents.

The leadership of the club was thrown into turmoil, following allegations surfaced against Aldon James for improperly using the nonprofit’s money and real estate. Aldon James, who served as president of the club for 25 years, was replaced in March 2011 by current president, Dianne Bernhard. The New York Attorney General filed a complaint in September of this year, alleging that Aldon James’ misuse lost the club approximately $1.5 million in potential rental income over the years.

The new filing denies many of the allegations described in the attorney general’s suit. The three men claim they live in apartments in the building, while the club claims in testimony that none of them still reside in the building.

The petition says Aldon James has been a tenant in the building since 1986, Leitner has been living there since 1971 and John James since 1986. A source familiar with the dispute said that all but one of the leases the three men had have expired. The source said the club believes they all live at 41 Park Avenue, a 113-unit building at 36th Street in Murray Hill.

Ira Glauber, a partner at Jaffe & Asher, who is representing the three men, did not respond to requests for comment. An attorney representing the club in a related case, declined to comment on behalf of the club.