Suit filed against America's Cup by African-American sailors


The African Diaspora Maritime Corp. claims in a lawsuit filed in New York in 2011 that the Golden Gate Yacht Club, the host of this year's race, unfairly denied it a chance to compete to be the American defender in the race.

The Aug. 23 hearing was scheduled today by Judge Barbara Kapnick in New York City, said Andrew Kratenstein, a lawyer for the Raleigh, N.C.-based maritime group.

If granted, the preliminary injunction would be in effect until a trial is held on the group's lawsuit, which seeks a ruling requiring the San Francisco-based yacht club to reopen the application process for cup defenders.

Kratenstein said it would be up to the judge to schedule the date of such a trial, but it could not be held before the Sept. 7 opening of the races.

Although the race has been three years in the making, Kratenstein said an injunction delaying it would be justified because the chance to participate is "a unique opportunity that comes only once every several years" and money couldn't compensate for the loss of that opportunity.

The purpose of the group is to train young African-Americans as competitive race sailors and to act as a role model, according to a declaration filed by its president, Charles Kithcart.

Kithcart said today, "Our group is the American story. We want to spark people's imagination."

He said, "Of course we're pleased" with the upcoming court date, but added, "We're disappointed we have to go to these extremes to participate in this sport in a free country."

The American defender selected by the yacht club is Larry Ellison's Oracle Team USA, which won the previous international competition in 2010. The challenger is being determined in the current Louis Vuitton Cup races in San Francisco Bay.

GGYC Vice Commodore Tom Ehman said today he was "absolutely certain" the America's Cup races will launch as scheduled on Sept. 7.

"I think ADM has very little chance to succeed with a preliminary injunction and even less chance to proceed in a trial," Ehman said.

The setting of the injunction hearing comes after a New York state appeals court ruled on June 25 that the lawsuit could proceed on one of its three original claims.

That claim is that by turning down ADM's application, the yacht club acted in bad faith and broke a contract it created when it developed a protocol for selecting a cup defender.

In a separate legal maneuver, the yacht club has asked the appeals panel for a stay of the injunction hearing and for permission to appeal the appellate decision to the state's highest court, which is known as the Court of Appeals.

Kratenstein said that motion will be decided without a hearing after final briefs are submitted on July 29.

Ehman said the yacht club turned down ADM's application to compete to be the defender on the ground that the group didn't have the necessary financial, human and technological resources to have a reasonable chance of winning a defender series.

The organization claims it could have fielded a diverse, experienced crew and raised funds from sources including the African-American community nationwide, Kratenstein said.

If ADM had been allowed to compete to be a defender in the 152-year-old contest, there would have been a defender series of races in addition to the current challenger races.

"The idea of a competition is that we want to compete. San Francisco needs more races," Kithcart said.

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