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Former Mass. Republican Party chair sues his successor and the state GOP itself

Former MassGOP chairman Jim Lyons, right, is suing his successor, Amy Carnevale (with flag pin) and the Republican State Committee.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Republican Party is no stranger to infighting, but this is taking it to a new level.

The former chairman of the Massachusetts GOP and more than 20 current state GOP committee members are suing the party’s new leader and the very panel the committee members sit on, accusing the party of wrongly killing a lawsuit against its own treasurer.

The complicated and circuitous complaint — filed Tuesday by ex-chairman Jim Lyons against his successor, Amy Carnevale — threatens to resurface an internal battle the party had tried to bury months ago. It’s also likely to further inflame the deep-seated divisions snaking through the GOP at a time when it’s trying to fight fewer battles, not more.

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The new legal brawl is a complex one.

Lyons, who in January lost his reelection bid as party chair to Carnevale, filed a complaint in Middlesex Superior Court in an attempt to revive a separate lawsuit Lyons had brought last year against party treasurer Patrick Crowley. Lyons had accused Crowley of a “breach of his fiduciary duties,” saying Crowley had frozen the party’s bank account amid a dispute over passage of its budget.

The previous lawsuit hung over the party for months before Carnevale and the state committee, in its first meeting in over a year, voted in June to drop it.

Now, Lyons, former GOP gubernatorial nominee Geoff Diehl, and 21 other state committee members — representing more than one-quarter of the 80-seat body — are asking a judge to consider claims under the original complaint, arguing it was “responsible and just.” Lyons also argues that by moving to drop the original lawsuit against Crowley, Carnevale, too, has forgone “her fiduciary duties to the party.”

By deciding not to pursue the suit, “the MassGOP turned a blind eye to the damages caused by Mr. Crowley’s actions, which principally injures their members and voters by financially undermining themselves,” Lyons wrote in the complaint.

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Carnevale said in a phone interview Wednesday she had yet to see the complaint, but criticized it as a “nuisance lawsuit” given the first one has been dismissed. The party’s attorney, Brian Kelly, previously told state committee members that moving ahead with the first lawsuit would take “a lot of time and a lot of money” with little chance of success, Carnevale said.

This new lawsuit “is an attempt to inhibit our ability to move forward,” Carnevale said. “Certainly it does not help with our ability to recruit candidates and run candidates for office and try to instill confidence with the donors we have, to try to turn the page.”

Reached by phone Wednesday, Lyons declined to comment, saying he wasn’t in position to talk. Efforts to reach Diehl, a state committee member who lost last year’s governor’s race to Democrat Maura Healey, were not successful Wednesday afternoon.

Many of the other state committee members listed in the new lawsuit were also plaintiffs in the original suit against Crowley.

The party has for years struggled under dismal election results, weak fund-raising, and internal squabbles.

Not a single Republican currently holds statewide office after former governor Charlie Baker and former lieutenant governor Karyn Polito decided not to run for reelection and finished their second terms in January. The GOP is also a super-minority in the Legislature, where Republicans hold just 28 of the 200 seats between the House and Senate.

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Carnevale, a longtime lobbyist, took over a party that was hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and facing a tangle of lawsuits and campaign finance probes. Party leaders have described her as “fair-minded” and well suited to make good on a pledge to bring the party together.

But fractures remain. At the party’s June meeting, routine discussions over ratifying new members and approving a budget broke down into proxy battles, the Globe reported. One state committee member supportive of Carnevale described it at the time as “utter chaos.”

Now comes the new lawsuit, in which Lyons is asking a judge to impose a permanent injunction “restraining . . . Crowley from any and all actions intending to disrupt the ongoing business affairs of the MassGOP.”

Crowley, who continues to serve as party treasurer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him @mattpstout.