The ugly Donald Sterling saga has claimed another victim: Leon Jenkins, the head of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP, resigned amid outrage directed at his organization for giving Sterling an award this year—the second in five years—despite his verified history of racist practices.
The group was scheduled to give Sterling a lifetime achievement award at a dinner commemorating the chapter’s 100th anniversary later this month. But after the recording of Sterling’s racist comments was released to the public, prompting the NBA to fine him $2.5 million and ban him from the league for life, the NAACP chapter rescinded the award.
Sterling has given the organization at least $45,000 since 2007, according to the New York Times. Earlier this week Jenkins announced that Sterling’s donations to the organization would be returned.
“There is a personal, economic and social price that Mr. Sterling must pay for his attempt to turn back the clock on race relations,” Jenkins said at the time.
In his resignation letter, Jenkins said the “legacy, history and reputation of the NAACP is more important to me than the presidency. In order to separate the Los Angeles NAACP and the NAACP from the negative exposure I have caused … I respectfully resign my position as president of the Los Angeles NAACP.”
But ironically, the scrutiny that was directed at the NAACP branch also brought to light some unsavory actions from Jenkins’ past.
When he was a judge in Detroit in 1988, Jenkins was indicted on federal bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and racketeering charges, with authorities alleging that he received gifts from those who appeared in his court. While he was acquitted of criminal charges, he was disbarred in 1994 by the Michigan Supreme Court, which found “overwhelming evidence” that Jenkins “sold his office and his public trust,” according to the bar records.
After Jenkins moved to California, the state bar in 1995 began looking into the misconduct allegations from Michigan, deciding to disbar him in 2001. He has tried unsuccessfully to be reinstated in 2006 and 2012.
The last time he was turned down, earlier this month, the bar questioned whether he had the “moral fitness to resume the practice of law,” according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The bar said he made misrepresentations on divorce papers and on his petition for reinstatement to the bar and that he failed to disclose a $660,000 loan he owed former legal clients.
Jenkins said he was a rehabilitated man and a force for good in the community, pointing out that he raised $2 million for the NAACP’s 2011 national convention in Los Angeles, and that he worked with organizations that helped African-Americans, including youth mentoring programs and voter outreach. Jenkins had 13 character witnesses speak about his character and honesty, according to the L.A. Times.
On Monday, Jenkins told reporters he didn’t cut ties with Sterling until now because the group was reluctant to make decisions based on rumors.
“We deal with the actual character of the person as we see it and as it is displayed,” he said.
According to the Times, newspaper ads for the May gala featured photos of Sterling and Jenkins with the headline: “Two Leaders. One Unprecedented Event.”