Competing alumni groups of a suspended University of Texas fraternity are battling for control of the frat’s West Campus house, with one of them raising the possibility of rebranding the Greek organization so that it can continue operating with a fresh look in the new year, according to a lawsuit in Travis County District Court.
The lawsuit charges that a group of alumni including an Austin physician intends to relaunch Sigma Alpha Epsilon as a “local fraternity or society,” presumably to circumvent a recent suspension that effectively bans the chapter from UT for at least four years.
In handing down the suspension, SAE’s national leadership on Nov. 6 said it found the fraternity in violation of health and safety concerns after investigating an anonymous tip left on a hazing hotline. Anyone found operating an underground chapter of SAE during the suspension “will face permanent expulsion from the Fraternity,” the email warns.
Yet the lawsuit says the second group is prepared to do just that and goes on to rip them for letting “the very individuals whose conduct caused SAE National to revoke their charter after being placed on probation to continue to live in, have meetings in and conduct fraternity rush in the fraternity house, recruit and allow new members to join” a reorganized group.
Austin family doctor David Pohl, a defendant in the lawsuit, declined to comment when reached Friday by the American-Statesman.
Others named as defendants in the lawsuit are Houston attorney Barksdale Hortenstine, Houston technology company owner Mark DeWalch, Paul Jornayvaz of Houston and Jody Lane of Dallas. None could be reached for comment.
Austin attorney Randy Howry, who is representing the defendants, said he’ll present his clients’ side at a Jan. 4 hearing.
“We dispute the allegations made in the plaintiff’s petition, and we’ll present evidence to support a contrary petition about who really controls this house corporation,” he said.
A spokesman for SAE’s national leadership did not return messages asking for comment.
The lawsuit says a document filed in 2001 with the Texas secretary of state gives the plaintiffs control over the house under the name SAE House Corp. Although no written agreements exist, the corporation has for years leased the house to the fraternity, which in turn leases rooms to some of its members, the lawsuit says. The group of men being sued wants to change that arrangement and start executing lease agreements, the lawsuit says.
“They’ve been doing things on behalf of the house corporation,” said attorney Kemp Kasling, who drafted the lawsuit. “We don’t think that makes them the board.”
The men who filed the lawsuit are Austin technology startup CEO Edmund Buckley, Houston dentist George R. Buckley, Austin financial consultant Alan Bergstrom, San Antonio oil and gas CEO George Wommack, Houston investment company co-founder Donald L. Poarch, Austin businessman Bud Shivers Jr. and Lloyd R. French III.
Allowing former members to continue living in the Pearl Street home brings a host of problems, according to the lawsuit, which notes that the home no longer is insured. In bold letters on the suspension email, the national fraternity’s CEO, Michael Sophir, states that the chapter is “no longer covered by SAE’s General Liability insurance of fidelity bond.”
Classes at UT will resume Jan. 16.