Ramona Ripston said Tuesday that she will resign as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California to become an officer of television producer Norman Lear's organization opposing partisan political efforts by fundamentalist religious groups.
After 13 years in which she has been through numerous civil liberties legal battles and ideological contests within the ACLU itself, Ripston told her executive committee Tuesday night that she will leave the post Dec. 31 because "the time has come to move on."
She said she will become vice president for the Western region of People for the American Way, set up by Lear to combat what he sees as an attempt by right-wing preachers to break down the separation between church and state in order "to Christianize America."
"Quite frankly," Ripston told The Times, "I have worked 70 to 80 hours a week for 13 years. You reach a point where you realize (the job) needs someone to work 70 to 80 hours a week."
She said her husband, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stanley Malone, had just telephoned her to find out what night of the week she would be free so he could have dinner with her. "It would be nice to spend more time with him," she said.
Policy arguments between the Southern California chapter and the national ACLU included one over how to share funds raised by the comparatively prosperous local affiliate and whether poverty constitutes a violation of an individual's civil rights.
No Current Dispute
She said Tuesday that there is no current dispute with the national organization and that "we are very close." The local affiliate and the national organization have a fund-sharing agreement and have settled a dispute over the local affiliate's opposition to a bill that would exempt most of the Central Intelligence Agency's operational files from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
Although others close to the ACLU agreed that the disagreements generally have quieted, some suggested that Ripston's loss of a battle with national ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser over how to share funds eroded some of her standing in the organization as well as her chances for advancement to the national post.
But Ripston, 53, told her executive committee Tuesday night that it was simply because "most of the goals I set for the organization 13 years ago have been realized. . . ."
She noted that during her tenure, the formerly debt-ridden Southern California ACLU and its fledgling ACLU Foundation have become thriving organizations, "the strongest affiliate in the ACLU national family," with endowment and pooled income funds of about $500,000 each. "Both organizations are extremely healthy," she said, and this is "the appropriate time to pass on the leadership to another executive director."