Sizemore still dodging jury's verdict, union attorney says
By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor
Union foe Bill Sizemore was called to the witness stand Feb. 3 as part of the sentencing portion of a lawsuit by two teachers' unions.
In September, a jury found two organizations directed by Sizemore guilty of racketeering for engaging in a pattern of extensive forgery and fraud during the campaign for a failed 1998 anti-union ballot measure. That measure was intended to make the plaintiffs - Oregon Education Association (OEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)-Oregon - spend millions of dollars opposing it. The jury ordered the Sizemore groups to pay damages of $2.52 million to the unions.
In the Feb. 3 hearing, lawyers for the OEA and AFT-Oregon demonstrated that Sizemore is continuing to engage in the kinds of behavior the jury condemned. The unions, now joined by the State of Oregon Attorney General's Office, are asking the judge to order dissolution of Sizemore's two groups - Oregon Taxpayers United Education Foundation and Oregon Taxpayers United Political Action Committee (PAC). They also seek an injunction limiting Sizemore's ability to start the same operations under a new name.
In October, Sizemore announced the formation of a new group known as Oregon Taxpayers Association. Shortly after, he changed its name to Oregon Taxpayers Union due to objections from rival conservative activist Don McIntire, who has a group called the Taxpayers Association of Oregon.
While the new organization has a new office address, 23630 S. Bluhm Rd. in Beavercreek, it uses the computers, office supplies, and donor list of the old organization. The new Web site is virtually identical to the old. And the new group claims credit for the accomplishments of the old. "In fact it's the same group," said AFT-Oregon attorney Gene Mechanic of the labor law firm Goldberg Mechanic Stuart and Gibson. "Oregon Taxpayers Union PAC is a shell. All they've done is change the name to evade the court injunction."
Even Sizemore confused the two groups on the witness stand, saying he didn't know who had paid his salary in recent months - Oregon Taxpayers United or the Oregon Taxpayers Union.
[Sizemore also admitted that the new organization was formed in response to the jury verdict.] Records introduced at the hearing showed that Sizemore paychecks from the old organizations - in October, November and January - in effect emptied the two organizations' remaining bank balances. Since Sizemore said on the witness stand that he has no plans to do any future fundraising for the old organizations, that leaves less than $200 in the two groups' bank accounts to pay the $2.52 million jury-awarded damages.
OEA attorney Greg Hartman, of the Portland law firm Bennett Hartman Morris and Kaplan, has said the plaintiffs will find ways of getting the money, including going after the personal assets of the director, Bill Sizemore.
At the Feb. 3 hearing, union attorneys also tried to show that Sizemore views the jury verdict with contempt. They brought up public statements by Sizemore that the details were too complicated for the jury to understand, that it was a "kangaroo trial," and that he couldn't get a fair trial in Multnomah County.
"From his comments after the jury trial," Mechanic said, "Mr. Sizemore does not appear to accept the jury's finding that his organizations did anything wrong. AFT-Oregon and OEA believe that an injunction is necessary to assure that Mr. Sizemore's non-profit and political enterprises do not engage in further racketeering."
Sizemore's attorney, Gregory Byrne, objected to Mechanic's questioning of his client's views about the jury verdict. Byrne argued that these views were irrelevant, and that Sizemore has a First Amendment right to hold them. But Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Jerome LaBarre overruled, saying Sizemore's attitude is important in considering whether he'll commit the same violations again.
In an Oct. 23 letter to past donors, Sizemore writes that the verdict caused him to do much "soul-searching" about whether to continue his campaigns.
"If you are not willing to send us money," Sizemore wrote, "then I will be forced to do the thing they want most. I will have to quit and find a new job."
Three times in the six-page-long fundraising letter, Sizemore promised to send a follow-up letter exactly one month later, in which he would report whether the outpouring of donations was sufficient for him to stay.
"If after one month, the contributions received are not greater than from any other letter that I have sent in the last two years, we will deduct the cost of printing and mailing this letter ... and then send the balance back to those who contributed, and close the doors."
That was Oct. 23. On Feb. 3, more than three months later, Sizemore was asked on the witness stand if he'd sent the promised follow-up letter. "Not yet," he replied.
Plaintiffs will present final arguments April 17. Hartman predicted the judge will issue a ruling a few weeks after that, possibly in May.
Sizemore has filed five initiative proposals with the Oregon secretary of state's office for the 2004 election cycle. Three of those are modified re-runs of his previous efforts to prohibit payroll deduction of union dues; the other two deal with property taxes and establishing a sales tax. There is no evidence that Sizemore is actively pursuing any of those initiatives at this time.
© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.