Oregon tax activist says opponents lied about him

AP News
|
Posted: Nov 11, 2009 11:03 AM

Oregon anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore is suing teacher unions and other opponents, saying they made false statements about him during the 2008 election, including calling him a racketeer.

Marion County Circuit Judge Joseph Guimond on Tuesday heard arguments in the lawsuit filed by Sizemore, who is the author of dozens of ballot measures over the years.

The lawsuit says the unions' campaign mailings labeled Sizemore as a convicted racketeer, implying a criminal conviction. Sizemore says that's a false way of describing a 2002 jury award in a racketeering lawsuit against his former political action committee.

Union lawyers argued that the campaign materials are protected speech, and that the jury in 2002 decided Sizemore was at the center of an alleged illegal enterprise using forged signatures to qualify measures for the ballot.

Sizemore's lawsuit is the latest volley in a long-running battle between him and unions representing teachers and other public employees. Over the years, many of Sizemore's measures have sought to limit government and taxes and curb the power of public employee unions.

In Tuesday's court arguments, Sizemore's attorney, Nathan Rietmann, took aim at the Oregon Education Association _ the state's largest teachers union.

"The OEA in particular lied throughout the campaign" in 2008, Rietmann said.

Besides calling Sizemore a "convicted racketeer," the OEA also sent out campaign mailings linking Sizemore to several ballot measures he had nothing to do with, including two get-tough-on-crime initiatives, he said.

Greg Hartman, attorney for the Oregon Education Association, said that since the jury in 2002 found that Sizemore's former political action committee engaged in racketeering, it's a "reasonable inference" to say broadly that Sizemore is a racketeer.

"Mr. Sizemore was at the center of that case. It wasn't like he was an innocent bystander," the OEA's lawyer said.

In late October, the OEA and the American Federation of Teachers-Oregon went back to court against Sizemore to accuse him again of racketeering, this time in the 2008 elections.

The unions claim Sizemore and Nevada businessman Loren Parks conspired to set up a sham charitable organization to hide money used to gather signatures and promote four ballot measures in 2008, including ones on teacher merit pay and public employee unions.

The complaint asks for $18 million in damages, or about three times the amount the unions spent to defeat the ballot measures in the November election.

Sizemore called the unions' latest lawsuit frivolous.