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LOCKPORT – A judge ruled today that the SPCA of Niagara was within its rights to raise the fee for a voting membership from $25 to $1,000, and also upheld the results of last year’s election for the board of directors.

“It’s a corporation. They can do what they want. I’m not going to sit in and run the Niagara County SPCA,” State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. said.

Ruling in a lawsuit brought by three members who favor a “no-kill” shelter, Kloch also said the 2012 election, which produced a completely new 15-member board, was perfectly legal.

“In every respect, the election of the board of directors in 2012 comported with the law and the by-laws that were then in effect,” Kloch told the attorneys.

Attorney Peter A. Reese, the husband of one of the plaintiffs, vowed that Kloch’s ruling will be appealed.

“I think these people think we don’t have the resources to pursue an appeal. They are very much mistaken,” Reese said in an interview.

SPCA Board President Bryan Barish said outside the courtroom, “We’re very pleased that the judge saw the claims were baseless, and we’re free to continue doing the good work for the animals.”

His attorney, William J. Hardy, told Kloch that 11 of the $1,000 memberships have been sold, along with 209 nonvoting memberships at lesser prices. Only the $1,000 members have the right to vote, under by-law amendments adopted recently by the SPCA board.

Previously, any member could vote, and the minimum price was $25. The only exception is the current members of the board, the executive director and the shelter director. They don’t have to pay anything.

“Members who exercise the voting franchise should have a stake in the organization,” said Michael DeFreitas, the attorney who crafted the amendment.

Reese argued that the SPCA’s action violated state law governing not-for-profit corporations, but Kloch disagreed.

“I’m not going to step into a not-for-profit corporation and tell them what they can charge for a membership,” Kloch said.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com