July 18, 2008 Volume 109 Number 13

Oregon Supreme Court upholds unions’ case against Sizemore

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled July 3 that two teachers unions were within their rights to use an organized crime law in a lawsuit against two groups run by anti-union activist Bill Sizemore.

The court upheld the 2002 jury verdict in the suit filed by Oregon Education Association (OEA) and American Federation of Teachers-Oregon against Sizemore’s Oregon Taxpayers United Educational Foundation and Political Action Committee.

The jury found that Sizemore’s groups used fraud and forgery to qualify two ballot measures that the unions had to spend money fighting. That included forged signatures on the initial “qualifying” petitions that are submitted to the state before major signature gathering begins, illegal use of charitable contributions for political purposes, and fraud in charitable reports to the state. The reports failed to reveal donors, or the extent of political activity of Sizemore’s charitable organization.

In 2006, the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed that Sizemore’s organization engaged in a “calculated course of criminal conduct” and “cynical, criminal manipulation of the democratic process.”

Sizemore had appealed that verdict on several grounds, arguing that since the groups could easily have gotten the required 25 genuine signatures on the qualifying petitions, the forgeries didn’t make that much difference. Also, the fraud on the charitable filings didn’t directly cause the unions to have to spend money, Sizemore argued through attorney Gregory Byrne.

But the Oregon Supreme Court rejected those and other arguments, and agreed that the jury’s conclusion was reasonable: That the purpose of the ballot measures was to bleed the unions of money, and that Sizemore’s ballot measure campaigns engaged in a pattern of criminal activity.

“The Supreme Court has the final word,” said OEA President Larry Wolf in a press statement. “They have confirmed what we’ve known for years – Bill Sizemore is a racketeer who uses fraud and forgery to manipulate Oregon’s initiative system. Oregon voters should be very suspicious of any measure he puts forward now and in the future.”

One of the two measures in the lawsuit will be on the ballot again this year — an initiative to prohibit public employee union members from using paycheck deduction to contribute to their unions’ political campaigns. And at least three other measures sponsored by Sizemore will be on this November’s ballot.

Sizemore’s organizations remain liable for a $2.5 million dollar jury award owed to the unions, and the unions plan to ask the courts to hold Sizemore personally liable for the judgment, which is so far largely unpaid.

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