Last week, an Oregon Court of Appeals ruling sent the already complicated case regarding Bill Sizemore's racketeering conviction spiraling into even murkier waters—despite "victory" being claimed by both sides.
In 2002, Sizemore, a conservative activist, was found guilty of racketeering through two of his organizations, Oregon Taxpayers United (OTU) and the Oregon Taxpayers United Education Foundation. The court ruled that Sizemore had engaged in a pattern of fraud in order to get two anti-union initiatives on the ballot. He was ordered to pay $2.5 million to two teachers' unions, the Oregon Education Association (OEA), and the American Federation of Teachers-Oregon.
In the four years since, that decision has bounced through the courts. But in October, the Court of Appeals ruled that while OTU had engaged in criminal activity (falsifying campaign finance reports among other things), the state law didn't technically apply to political action committees. That meant that OTU was off the hook for the $2.5 million, but the Education Foundation still owed the money.
Last Wednesday, December 6, after the unions asked for a clarification, the court upheld the judgment against the Education Foundation, but said that Sizemore himself wasn't liable for the money. Complicating matters even further is the fact that the Education Foundation was dissolved by the court in 2002 on the basis that it was merely a front group for Sizemore's political activities—meaning that, as it currently stands, the only judgment remaining is against an organization that no longer exists.
But the fight is far from over.
"The question about [Sizemore's] personal liability remains unanswered," says OEA's Mark Toledo. "But it will probably require a new trial to show new findings."
The teachers' unions are planning to appeal the appeals court's decision that the OTU isn't covered under state law. They believe the law is broad enough to apply to the political action committee.
Plus, the unions may pursue contempt of court complaints against Sizemore for flouting a court-ordered ban on political activity.
Not surprisingly, Sizemore sees last Wednesday's ruling as a victory.
"The ruling simply means that I'm not personally liable," Sizemore says.
That may be true, but the court also said Sizemore engaged in "cynical, criminal manipulation of the democratic process."
Sizemore also plans to appeal the judgment against the Education Foundation to the Oregon Supreme Court—With appeals coming from both sides of the case on two separate issues, this fight will undoubtedly drag on for years.
In the meantime, Sizemore hasn't let the rulings slow him down. Of the 63 initiatives already filed for 2008, Sizemore has authored 37. Of those, at least four are already circulating on the streets gathering signatures.
That means that 2008 is already shaping up to be a knockdown, drag-out fight between Sizemore and progressive groups. Or, as Sizemore put it: "2008 is going to be a fun year."