Nearly a year after the indictments of four people on charges stemming from an embezzlement scandal at the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU), the case remains mired in pretrial arguments and allegations about the conduct of lawyers. The legal skirmishing is the latest twist in a case that has moved slowly since the discovery more than two years ago that millions of dollars were missing from the union.
Disgraced former WTU president Barbara Bullock has already pled guilty to embezzlement and is serving a 9-year prison term. But according to the Washington Post, lawyers involved in the case are predicting that the trial of the remaining defendants may not start until the middle or end of 2005. The defendants include former union officials Gwendolyn M. Hemphill and James O. Baxter II and accountants James A. Goosby Jr. and Robin Klein.
Attorneys for the defense and the prosecution have made numerous requests for more time to file the required motions and documents that are supposed to pave the way for the trial, saying the case is “extraordinarily complex.” With the delays, the squabbles and the government’s early difficulty in providing thousands of documents to the defense, the case is in the rare situation of being without a scheduled trial date almost a year after indictments were returned.
“The question is, what’s taking so long?” said Nathan Saunders, a Ballou Senior High School teacher and activist who has filed a civil suit over the union’s mismanagement of finances. “This should have been done by now.” Saunders, who plans to run for a seat as the union’s general vice president in upcoming elections, said that his lawsuit is largely on hold until the criminal prosecution is complete and that the public and teachers deserve some resolution.
Hemphill and Baxter are accused of taking union dues for personal purposes, and the indictment alleges that they were among the main beneficiaries of the theft. Hemphill, for example, allegedly used union money for $29,000 in dental implants and other dental work for herself and her husband. Baxter, the union’s former treasurer, allegedly charged the union for more than $31,000 in club seat tickets to Washington Wizards basketball games for himself and friends. Bullock and Hemphill resigned their posts in fall 2002, and Baxter stepped aside pending results of the investigation.
Goosby and Klein are charged with producing phony accountings. According to the indictment, they were paid fees “to cover up [the] gross misappropriation of union resources.”
Since the indictment, prosecutors have learned that Luque, Hemphill’s attorney, had a phone conversation in December 2003 with Hemphill’s daughter, Cheryl Martin, with whom the government was crafting a plea agreement. That led to the U.S. attorney’s complaint to the Office of Bar Counsel. Luque calls the complaint about her conduct “completely false in every respect.”
For her part, Luque accused prosecutors of improperly leaking information to reporters about the investigation in the months preceding the indictments. Her complaint centered upon news stories that said prosecutors and Hemphill were in plea negotiations. Assistant U.S. attorneys James Cooper and Anthony Alexis have said they were not behind any leaks and suggested that the defendants or people acting on their behalf could have been the sources. [Washington Post, 11/10/04]