Teachers union files lawsuit against OTU

The Oregon Education Association (OEA) has filed a $2.25 million civil lawsuit against Oregon Taxpayers United (OTU) and 10 John Does, alleging fraud and racketeering.

The lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court on Dec. 11, alleges damages to the union and its members were caused by criminal acts of OTU employee Kelli Highley. It accuses Highley of submitting forged signatures on petitions in connection with several initiative efforts sponsored by OTU, specifically Measure 59 from the 1998 general election and Measures 91, 92 and 98 from last November's election. The measures were aimed at limiting public employee unions' ability to participate in the political arena by banning payroll deduction for union dues. Voters defeated all of the measures.

Highley has already been indicted for forgery in connection with the Measure 59 and Measure 91 petitions. Her criminal case is awaiting trial in Yamhill County.

OEA further charges that OTU, acting in concert with various political action committees, Bill Sizemore, Becky Miller, and Sizemore's petition-signature-gathering company, "formed an enterprise with the express purpose of qualifying ballot measures to restrict the ability of the OEA to collect member dues" and forcing the union to spend resources defeating them.

Sizemore is the executive director of OTU and Miller is an employee. Neither was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but Sizemore could be at a later date, said OEA President James Sager.

"We believe that Oregon Taxpayers United and others yet to be named are liable for a pattern of forgery, fraud, misdeeds and criminal activity that mock Oregonians and Oregon's Constitution," said OEA Executive Director Joann Waller, at a news conference an hour after the suit was filed.

The union brought its claim under the Oregon Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization statute, which mirrors the federal RICO law.

"OEA deserves a lot of credit for uncovering the scope of fraudulent signatures," said Tim Nesbitt, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO. "It's more than the tip of the iceberg."

Nesbitt said members of the coordinated campaign created to oppose Measures 92 and 98 would meet to discuss what role they might play in the lawsuit. "Obviously there is a lot of interest from other parties," he said.

Thus far, OEA is the sole plaintiff, but Sager said that others may choose to join them as the case proceeds.

The lawsuit charges that OTU should pay back OEA's costs in legal expenses and campaigns to oppose Measures 92 and 98.

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