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Judge Refuses to Undo O.C. Museum Merger


SANTA ANA — A request to reverse the new Newport Harbor-Laguna Art Museum merger was denied Thursday by a Superior Court judge, who told merger opponents that they were "just too darn late."

The opponents said they would appeal.

"We are more united than ever," said Fitz Maurice of Laguna Beach, vice president of the Motivated Museum Members opposition group. She said the ruling by Judge Raymond J. Ikola "has strengthened our conviction."

The museums' plan to join as the Orange County Museum of Art had been put to two votes by museum members and was approved each time.

"It would have been a far different situation if [the opponents] had come to court" immediately after the first vote, Ikola said Thursday.

But in any case, he said, the opponents have failed to support their contentions that trustees violated laws in conducting the two votes and lied when they courted votes by saying the Laguna museum risked insolvency without a merger.

"What I see are statements of opinions," Ikola said, not "representations of fact."

He also said that reversing the 2-week-old merger would jeopardize any donations that the consolidated museum already has received.

Naomi Vine, director of the consolidated museum, said she is confident that Ikola's ruling "will be upheld no matter how many times it is appealed."

A membership vote on reversing the merger is scheduled for Monday, but museum Chairman Charles D. Martin said he doubts it will carry. Martin appealed for unity.

Ikola told the museum to give the opponents a copy of its membership list by today, so the opponents can prepare for the Monday vote. And although the opponents hadn't asked for it, the judge also ruled that the museum must pay their legal fees, which have not been determined.

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