ABORTION, TEACHERS UNIONS & RACKETEERING STATUES
March 29, 2006
It is doubtful that anyone imagined that racketeering laws, which originally were created to aid in the fight against organized crime, would become the political tool they are today. These days, you don’t have to be a member of a crime family to find yourself in the cross hairs of a racketeering lawsuit, and believe me, the stakes in these lawsuits can be very high.
Under RICO statutes, civil plaintiffs, who can establish a pattern of illegal behavior involving multiple acts, and can show that they were harmed directly by those acts, are entitled to treble damages. “Treble” means the plaintiff in the case wins three times the actual damages suffered. That is before attorney fees, which in racketeering case can be substantial, are added.
Today, racketeering laws have been so expanded and abused that they are employed for all kinds of purposes that have nothing to do with organized crime, including as you will see, shutting down political opponents.
I have three friends who due to RICO lawsuits each owe in the neighborhood of Ten Million Dollars, debts they can never pay. To what crime family do these three individuals belong? Well, none. What hideous crime did they perpetrate on humanity? Well, none really. So, what did they do? It must be diabolical to owe $10 million. They must be big time operators, right? Hardly.
Here is their crime: These three men protested at an abortion clinic in Portland, Oregon and were sued by the clinic under the corrupt practices act. Now they owe millions of dollars they can never pay. None of them can ever own a home or a car or have money in a bank account without risking having it seized by the clinic, which holds the judgments against them. These judgments are good for 10 years, and when they expire can be renewed for another 10 years.
These three individuals are honorable men; men who believed in the cause for which they fought. Their crime was in actively opposing abortion, a politically correct activity. The courts and RICO statutes were employed to shut down their protests and stop them from interfering with the high profit business in which abortion clinics engage. For this they are hopelessly in debt for most of the rest of their lives.
The penalty for their “crime” is in some ways greater than if they had robbed a bank. They could have burglarized 50 houses and been penalized less that these men have been penalized for protesting at an abortion clinic. That is the nature of RICO statutes. Improperly applied, which is something some liberal judges are willing to do, laws designed to shut down crime families can be used to shut down the lives and activities of rank and file political activists.
I know whereof I speak. I personally owe two teachers union in Oregon somewhere in the neighborhood of Four Million Dollars. In my case, I never even got a trial, something I used to believe was guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. My crime? I placed measures on the ballot that would have required labor unions to obtain an employee’s written consent before taking money out of his or her paycheck for political purposes. Unions hate such measures and unions have friends in high places. To this I can attest.
Here is my story, which has been updated to reflect new discoveries, including the fact that the judge, who presided over our case for more than three years, has a son who is now a teachers union president and unbeknownst to us was a member of the teachers union the entire time he presided over their lawsuit against us.
In 2001, Oregon Taxpayers United, an organization I headed at the time, was sued by the teachers unions under Oregon’s racketeering laws. The unions claimed that we were able to raise the considerable amount of money necessary to place two union related measures on the ballot for the 2000 General Election, because we allegedly filed inaccurate campaign finance reports and tax returns. The unions sued to get all of their campaign money back tripled, because according to them our campaign reports and tax returns were inaccurate.
The unions claimed they spent about $800,000 dollars campaigning against the measures and wanted that amount tripled to $2.4 million. (Truth is, public employee unions spent more than $5 million fighting the two measures, not just $800,000, but they didn’t want to risk making the jury sympathetic by asking for such a huge amount. Besides, if the only union that showed up in court was the teachers union, you know, mom, apple pie, and school teachers, the unions knew they were more likely to win. Everyone likes school teachers, you know.)
After a three week trial, a jury awarded the unions what amounted to a $2.4 million judgment, which grew to $3.4 million when the judge added in attorney fees. The judgment is now increasing at the rate of approximately $300,000 per year because of the accruing interest. I would have to pay them $300,000 per year just to keep the judgment from increasing.
There are far too many bizarre things about the way this case was handled to include in this update, but I will pick a few. First, we were sued in the most liberal county the unions could find, even though neither Oregon Taxpayers United nor the unions were headquartered in that county. The first thing the union lawyers did was eliminate the four Republicans from the 50 person Multnomah County jury pool. The remaining pool eventually was winnowed down to 14 Democrats and one Green Party member. Talk about a stacked deck. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
The judge who presided over our case, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Jerome LaBarre, failed to mention the fact that his son was a member of the very union that was suing us in his court. If he had disclosed this pertinent fact up front, we could have demanded that he be removed from the case, and we would have prevailed in that motion. Instead, the judge hid that fact for three years and only disclosed it when his activist son was elected president of his union local.
Throughout the lengthy trial, the judge ruled against us at every turn, even disallowing evidence that would have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the unions could not have been damaged by the acts they accused us of committing. With this judge in charge, there was no way we could defend ourselves.
To insure that the jury knew who were the good guys in the case, the judge even allowed the unions to present in court a slide show of teachers helping kids with their school work and of school bus drivers helping kids cross the street safely. The judge even had to be rebuked by our attorney for making faces while I was testifying.
Then, in the end, the judge gave the jury contrived instructions that insured that they could only find against us. The entire trial was a sham, scripted form beginning to end, so of course we lost. The unions closed the trial as they had begun it, assuring the jury that Bill Sizemore was not on trial; that I was not a defendant in the case and that the trial was not about me.
Then, with judgment in hand, the unions went to another judge in the same county and demanded that I personally be held liable for the entire amount of the judgment. My attorney demanded that I receive a jury trial and that the unions prove that I either did something wrong or ordered someone else to commit wrong; something we were sure they couldn’t do. The judge denied my motion for a trial and ordered me personally to pay the full amount of the judgment. Of course, we appealed this blatantly unconstitutional ruling and are still awaiting my day in court.
In the meanwhile, I went back to work raising more money to collect more signatures to put more measures on the ballot. For those unfamiliar with the ballot measure work I do, our organization has saved the taxpayers of Oregon several billion dollars over the years and made it harder for government to increase taxes. These efforts are of course one of the reasons the public employee unions have so much animosity towards me and why they became so upset when I decided to get back to work doing what it is I do.
My continued ballot measure work further infuriated the unions. Their goal had been to shut me down, and yet here I was raising money and attempting to put more measures on the ballot. The unions immediately filed a Contempt of Court charge against me for raising and spending money on politics, which silly me, I thought was something every American citizen had a constitutionally protected right to do. The unions demanded that I personally pay back all of the money I had raised, so they could snatch it, of course. While they were at it, they asked the judge to send me to jail for up to six months for Contempt of Court.
The same biased judge, the one who had handled the original case, ordered me to pay back the $143,000 we had raised, but wisely chose not to send me to jail. I actually thought he might, so I brought my toothbrush to court. The TV reporters loved the toothbrush prop and aired my comment, holding up my toothbrush, that I came to court prepared to become a political prisoner in Multnomah County.
My “grandstanding”, as the unions called it, further infuriated the unions. Shortly thereafter, they filed a second Contempt of Court charge because I continued to raise money and continued to collect petition signatures. This time they asked only for jail time.
Before this motion was heard, the judge’s son was elected president of the local teachers unions, which made his conflict of interest difficult to hide. This is when the judge finally announced that his son was a member of the Plaintiff’s organization and resigned from the case. The new judge declined to rule on the Contempt of Court motion and left everything in the hands of the appeals court, where it sits today.
As of this moment, I still owe the teachers unions more than $4 million and still have not had a trial. Having a multi-million judgment against you is more than a nuisance, I assure you. It does more than ruin your credit. Last summer, my wife and I sold a rental property, the only one we owned, and the unions used their judgment to seize all of the equity proceeds I had coming from the sale. Ouch!
Probably the most telling thing about this long drawn out ordeal was the curious offer the unions made to me some months ago. Through their lawyers, the unions offered to not exercise their $4 million judgment against me, if I would agree to drop my appeal and sign an agreement to stay out of politics for 15 years.
Finally, they had admitted up front what it was all about. All they wanted from the beginning was to get me out of politics. All the unions wanted was to stop me from putting measures on the ballot to lower taxes, which is the ultimate source of all their revenue, and stop me from putting measures on the ballot to make unions obtain employee consent before deducting political donations from their paychecks.
Of course, I declined their offer and began filing measures for the next election cycle, and the pattern began to repeat itself. Once again, the unions responded in the manner to which they have become accustomed. The filed a new Contempt of Court motion against me and again asked for jail time.
I said all that to say this: Abortion providers and public employee unions have learned to fight their political battles in a new forum. It is not the forum of public opinion. It is not at the ballot box, where they might lose. It is the courts, where they can count on friendly liberal judges to shut down their opposition for them.
Racketeering statutes are a relatively new tool in the legal arsenal of America’s left wing. Laws created to shut down organized crime are now being used as political weapons to shut down politically incorrect political movements. My three friends and I and the millions we owe to our political opponents serve to illustrate the hazards of this dangerous, new strategy.
© 2006 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
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Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
Abortion providers and public employee unions have learned to fight their political battles in a new forum. It is not the forum of public opinion. It is not at the ballot box, where they might lose. It is the courts, where they can count on friendly liberal judges...