The head of the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP resigned Thursday after coming under scrutiny for the organization's ties to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
In a letter, Leon 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."
The group granted Sterling an award in 2009, the same year the real estate magnate paid $2.73 million to settle U.S. government claims that he refused to rent his apartments to Latinos and blacks in Koreatown. The chapter was set to give Sterling a second award when a recording emerged in which a man, determined by the NBA to be Sterling, asked a female friend not to publicly associate with African Americans.
In 1988, while he was a judge in Detroit, Jenkins was indicted on federal bribery, conspiracy, mail fraud and racketeering charges, according records from the State Bar of California.
Authorities at the time alleged that Jenkins received gifts from those who appeared in his court and committed perjury, the records show. He was acquitted of criminal charges. But in 1994 the Michigan Supreme Court disbarred him, finding "overwhelming evidence" that Jenkins "sold his office and his public trust," according to the bar records. The court made the ban retroactive to 1991.
Jenkins was practicing law in California that year, serving as an attorney for the family of Latasha Harlins, an African American teenager who was fatally shot by a Korean grocery store owner in South Los Angeles, according to Times reports.
In 1995, the state bar began looking into the misconduct allegations from Michigan. He was disbarred in 2001, according to the state bar. He tried to be reinstated in 2006 but was rejected, records show. He made another attempt in 2012.
Earlier this month, the bar turned him down, questioning whether he had the "moral fitness to resume the practice of law," according to records. The bar stated that he made misrepresentations on divorce papers and on his petition for reinstatement to the bar. Officials claimed he failed to disclose a $660,000 loan he owed former legal clients.
In his efforts to win back his law license, Jenkins said he was a rehabilitated man and a force for good in the community.
He said he raised $2 million for the NAACP's 2011 national convention in Los Angeles. He also cited work with organizations that helped African Americans, including youth mentoring programs and voter outreach.
He presented 13 character witnesses to speak about his character and honesty.
Jenkins did not return calls seeking comment Thursday. On Tuesday, the national office of the NAACP sent a memo to all the chapters, including the 52 branches in California, urging them to not speak to the media. Numerous attempts to contact the organizations have not been returned. One NAACP member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said officials were aware of Jenkins' past legal issues. But because he was cleared of criminal charges, they didn't see a problem with giving him a leadership role, the source said.
On the Los Angeles NAACP's website, a biography of Jenkins notes he was "the youngest African American judge to serve in Michigan" but does not mention his legal troubles.
Details of Jenkins' history in Michigan were first reported Tuesday by Deadline Detroit and the Michigan Citizen.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Jenkins said 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.
The NAACP tried to build partnerships with other sports franchises in Southern California, Jenkins added, but "his organization was the only one that really came to the front."
The chapter had recently been talking to Sterling about giving an endowment to Los Angeles Southwest College and donating more money to African American students at UCLA.
The chapter was prepared to honor Sterling at a gala in May. Newspaper ads for the event recently appeared, featuring photos of Sterling and Jenkins with the headline: "Two Leaders. One Unprecedented Event."
In the wake of the controversy, an online petition was launched to suspend the Los Angeles chapter.