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Defends 'Right . . . to Discriminate' : Private Clubs Spokesman Assails Attack on Exclusivity of Groups

May 05, 1987|KENNETH REICH | Times Staff Writer

The president of the California State Club Assn., a group representing 120 of the state's private clubs, has told members in a newsletter that recent moves to induce the clubs to integrate women and minorities into their memberships are supported mainly by various special-interest groups.

"Clubs are under broad attack nationwide," said John M. Robinson in the seven-page April newsletter urging clubs to organize their memberships to write letters and otherwise lobby lawmakers against proposed anti-discrimination laws and regulations affecting the clubs.

State and Los Angeles city proposals in this regard will be heard by legislative committees this week.

"The proponents of anti-club measures consist principally of a relatively small group of strident professional women in metropolitan centers, the anti-Establishment news media, vote-seeking politicians, a few minority leaders, do-gooders, the radical left, and social engineers who would restructure our social system according to their own ideas," Robinson wrote.

"Let it be clear that the California State Club Assn. has never advocated discrimination in club memberships and does not do so now. But it has always defended the right of clubs to discriminate, if they so wish, as an exercise of their constitutionally guaranteed right (of free association)."

Robinson, 77, former president of the Los Angeles Country Club and a retired 30-year partner of the Los Angeles law firm of Musick, Peeler & Garrett, insisted that "the essence of a club is its exclusiveness," and further remarked:

"Discrimination has come to be regarded as a dirty word. Nevertheless, that personal preferences in associates exist and will continue to exist is a fact of life that cannot be altered by legislation."

A copy of the newsletter was given to The Times by the chairman of the state Board of Equalization, Conway Collis, who has proposed a regulation in the Franchise Tax Board to end state tax deductions for business payments for memberships, dues and meals at discriminatory private clubs. Collis said he obtained the newsletter through Sheila Kuehl, president of the Women Lawyers Assn. of Los Angeles.

Robinson, reached at his Los Angeles office, confirmed the authenticity of the newsletter. But he expressed dismay that a copy of it had reached Collis, saying that it was sent only to 120 heads of private clubs.

'Sound the Death Knell'

Collis responded:

"This letter should sound the death knell for government support of any kind for private clubs that discriminate. The language shows an attitude that is so far outside of the mainstream of California thought as to be embarrassing to most club members. In fact, I always thought discrimination was a dirty word."

In his newsletter, however, Robinson argued that private clubs have "the right to discriminate on any basis whatsoever."

The newsletter stated:

"The late Groucho Marx once remarked: 'I wouldn't want to belong to any club that would have me for a member.' He understood that the essence of a club is its exclusiveness. Unless the right to select desired members and to exclude unwanted members is unrestricted, the objective of compatibility and congeniality of members cannot be accomplished. The right thus to select and exclude necessarily includes the right to discriminate on any basis whatsoever. An organization to which everyone has the right to belong ceases to be a club in the traditional sense."

Change in Policies

Despite Robinson's statements claiming a right to discriminate, some leading private clubs in California are moving toward non-discriminatory policies. Last week, the Jonathan Club, one of the two leading private men's clubs in Los Angeles, decided to admit women soon, and the Hillcrest Country Club, the leading predominantly Jewish club in the city, announced that it has begun accepting women as regular members.

There also have been reports that the California Club has asked both Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and Collis to hold up consideration of anti-discriminatory laws and regulations pending a possible early decision by that club to admit its first women and black members.

Collis, for instance, said last week that it had become clear to him in discussions with four ranking California Club members that "an internal battle is going on" at that club and that "good-hearted" members are trying "to give the older guys who run the club a way out" of present discriminatory policies.

Regardless of that, Collis said he is not inclined to delay anti-discriminatory rules because many clubs besides the California Club discriminate.

California Club President Lawrence P. Day declined comment on the matter. But two other members knowledgeable in club affairs told The Times that serious discussions are taking place within the club leadership about the possibility of admitting women and blacks and that Day may have something to say, in the words of one, "when there is something to announce."

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