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Ousted members of Florida chess board sue to reclaim their volunteer positions

ST. PETERSBURG — The future of chess belongs to the young. On this, these chess fanatics agree.

As for everything else, well, they'll hash it out in court.

Andrew Scherman, a chess master at 51, says he had the brainy board game's future at heart when he collected 16 written votes supporting him and two 20-somethings as officers of the Florida Chess Association.

They won in a 2008 coup, giving them three seats on the statewide 13-member board. Then, a few months ago, the St. Petersburg Chess Club members were swept off the board like plastic pawns. The proxy votes, the other officers voted, were illegal.

Check. But not mate, apparently.

Scherman is a retired lawyer who has been butting heads in local chess politics for years. On July 21, he moved the game into Pinellas County Circuit Court.

"It wouldn't be so bad if they just did it to me; I might have moved on," Scherman said. "But they did it to Skippy and Joe, too. They're punishing them. They are young. They are active. If you believe in anything about that kids are our future, you can see this is wrong."

Skippy is Robert Foreman, 21. He and Joseph Virgin, 23, of Orlando are also plaintiffs.

Board members Harvey Lerman, 71, and Chuck Hall, 44, call Scherman a troublemaker with an ax to grind and a possible conspiracy to take over the board.

Lerman and Hall are officers of the Orlando-based Central Florida Chess Club, which Scherman describes as a rival group. Lerman and Hall disagree on that, but Scherman says the CFCC is jealous of his success. Both acknowledge that the SPCC is bigger and holds more tournaments.

The 16 proxy votes were illegal, and not allowed under Robert's Rules of Order, Lerman said. He said the final insult was when Scherman tried to thrust 50 new members into the organization, paying $1,000 for their memberships in advance of next month's general election. That move was blocked, and the electorate frozen.

"There's an old saying in local chess: 'Andrew is just being Andrew,' " said Lerman, a retired computer programmer. "It could be just that Andrew wants to control everything. We don't know what he wants to do with that control."

The FCA, which has 17 regional affiliates in Florida, began in the 1940s. It has 300 members this year, down from 1,000 in 2001, and an annual budget of about $10,000. Comparatively, the Florida Scholastic Chess League, an FCA partner that promotes chess in schools, began in 1998, has 2,000 members and a $40,000 budget.

Scherman's lawsuit, which seeks to restore him and the others to the board and to remove Lerman and Hall, does not contain a dollar figure. But Robert Persante, a Clearwater attorney who is defending them pro bono, said the FCA cannot afford a legal challenge.

To prove that this fight isn't about him, Scherman notes that when he was kicked off the FCA board in 2001, he didn't sue. Persante was FCA president then.

"This kind of turmoil is really nothing new," Persante said. "And when you step back and you look at it, that individuals have decided to file litigation because they have been removed from their volunteer positions, you begin to wonder.

"I am saying that they have too much time on their hands."

Luis Perez can be reached at lperez@sptimes.com or (727)892-2271.

Ousted members of Florida chess board sue to reclaim their volunteer positions 08/25/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009 11:35am]
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