FreeState Justice obtains restraining order against ousted executive director
Maryland’s most high-profile LGBTQ advocacy organization has accused its former executive director of seizing control of its computer systems following his dismissal.
In a U.S. District Court filing, FreeState Justice claimed that Jeremy LaMaster launched a “coordinated attack” on the non-profit’s email and electronic files shortly after being removed from his post.
The organization sought a temporary restraining order to force him to relinquish control over its computers. The order was granted, though FreeState’s operations remain hobbled, according to its new executive director, Phillip Westry.
“We have regained some access but we don’t have full access at the moment,” Westry said on Monday. “Mr. LaMaster is still the primary administrator on some of the accounts.”
In an interview, LaMaster sought to downplay the issue, saying that “we’re working to resolve any lingering issues that they have with IT.”
“I have no control or power [over the system],” he added. “There was no hostage takeover of anything.”
In its court filing, the organization claimed LaMaster was removed from his post two weeks ago. The next day, they claim, he posted a statement on FreeState’s website that accused its board of directors of having a “white supremacist culture.” The post, which was also emailed to approximately 43,000 people on FreeState’s mailing list, called on several board members to step down.
He also “commandeered” his successor’s Google account, “rendering him unable to access his emails, internal work calendars, and collaborative documents shared and worked on via Google Drive.”
LaMaster, who spent two years as executive director, said he continues to believe that FreeState would benefit from new leadership. The current board “has harmed” the organization, he said, adding, “I think it’s important that it stops.”
FreeState has a long history of advocating for gay, lesbian and transgender Marylanders. It helped spearhead the push for marriage equality, fought to enact bans on the use of “bias rage” and the “panic” defense in court, and it helped advocate for the creation of the Maryland State Commission on LGBTQ Affairs.
In the coming months, Westry said, FreeState hopes to bolster health care access for the trans community, fight local school board efforts to ban certain books, and strengthen housing protections for older gays.
He said the loss of access to the computer system has made it difficult to defend individual clients in housing and employment discrimination cases.
“It’s been difficult for me because I’ve lost my email access, which then cuts you out of everything,” he said. “I have active cases with clients, so when I was locked out of my email, that meant if a client or opposing counsel reached out via email, it would have just bounced back as if [the account] weren’t there.”
FreeState officials and LaMaster faced off at a court hearing on Monday, with no resolution. LaMaster represented himself. A follow-up hearing has been set for later this week.
Westry, who is Black, said FreeState leaders are concerned that LaMaster’s race-related allegations will harm the organization’s reputation, though he said supporters have rallied around the organization.
“We’ve been getting a lot of support from our partners through this process,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify that LaMaster posted to the FreeState website following the decision to remove him from his position.