The US branch of the IT Service Management Forum has filed a defamation lawsuit against a former executive director, alleging that he attempted to discredit and damage the organisation via comments posted on a blog under a fictitious name.

This lawsuit follows an allegation, made last year by "Julie Linden, Ph.D," that the election of ITSMF USA's board of directors had been tampered with. The tampering claim turned out to have some validity to it, but it was only part of a bizarre series of events that included blog comment postings hinting at some broader but opaque conspiracy among members of the board.

One anonymous e-mail received by Computerworld included a spreadsheet that had the names, address, and phone numbers of thousands of ITSMF-USA its members. Another contained voting records. In short, someone had copied the group's data.

Linden communicated with Computerworld by e-mail through a now-defunct public Hotmail account, and once by phone with a blocked caller ID, identifying herself as "a messenger".

Linden said last summer that the motives behind the ITSMF-USA's election irregularities would be revealed at the group's annual conference in September in Charlotte, NC, but that never happened. The only new revelation coming out since then is a lawsuit filed last month in California Superior Court in Orange County by the ITSMF USA alleging that "Julie Linden" and its former executive director, James Prunty, are one and the same.

The organisation, which is also accusing Prunty of breach of fiduciary duty, wants hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from him. Prunty left his post at the Pasadena-based, 8,000-member ITMSF-USA last year.

Citing the pending litigation, Prunty, reached by telephone, declined comment on the lawsuit. He hasn't yet filed his response to the ITMSF-USA lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Prunty, writing under the name of Julie Linden, made defamatory comments about the group. It cites several comments on the blog of a New Zealand-based writer, the IT Skeptic, that disparage the ITSMF.

Meanwhile, the voting records sent to Computerworld via e-mail under the name "Ima Geek" appeared to be an attempt to add gravity to Linden's claims. But the only thing those files established was that someone had access to the ITSMF-USA's records.

Linden's election tampering claims would have likely been dismissed as fantasy had it not been for evidence of genuine problems with the election. The ITSMF board -- all volunteers -- had enough information to know something was wrong, but it needed help to get at the root of it. The board hired Kroll , a New York-based risk management firm, which turned up "clear evidence" that a handful of votes were cast by people who did not vote.

The lawsuit doesn't suggest any motive behind the allegations that Prunty attempted to discredit the organisation, and is focused on establishing that Prunty is Linden. The organisation has been in court since last December, originally naming Linden in a complaint. It has evidently been seeking legal authority to discover the sources of the e-mails.

Phyllis Drucker, director of operations at the Pasadena, Calif.-based volunteer organisation, said the group won't be talking about its evidence before it's entered in court.

After the election issue surfaced, the ITSMF-USA held a vote as to whether the current board had a mandate to continue to run the organisation, and it received more than an 80% approval rating in a vote of about 750 of its members. (About half of the total membership is eligible to vote.)

The ITSMF USA is part of an international organisation that is managed out of Wokingham, England. Its work and conferences are gaining more attention mostly because of the increased adoption of IT services best practices, especially the IT Infrastructure Library, better known as ITIL.

Linden claimed that 100 votes were tampered with, but only provided a list of 15 names of people who allegedly didn't vote. Just over 500 people voted in the 2006 online election. Computerworld received that list (but not directly from Linden), and could only locate two people on it, one of whom said that he had not voted. This list was too small to change the outcome.

What was the point of this? And what was the reason? ITSMF-USA said last year that the election tampering was an attempt to "embarrass and undermine" the organisation, but didn't want to speculate on a reason why.