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LIUNA's In-House Prosecutor to Appeal 'Certain Portions' of Hearing Officer Report

 

By Brian Lockett and Michael Bologna

Thursday, March 25, 1999

 

The in-house prosecutor for the Laborers' International Union of North America March 23 filed a notice of intention to appeal "certain portions" of the independent hearing officer's report on the investigation of union President Arthur Coia, the union announced.

 

"Recognizing the interests of all parties in a prompt and final resolution of the matter, the [General Executive Board] attorney will ask the appellate officer for expedited review," according to the LIUNA statement.

 

Robert D. Luskin, the attorney and in-house prosecutor for LIUNA's general executive board, declined requests to say what portions of the IHO report are under consideration for appeal. Luskin said "a final decision had not been made on the particular issues to address" and that only notice of intention to appeal has been filed.

 

Independent Hearing Officer Peter Vaira cleared Coia of multiple charges of association with organized crime figures filed against him under the union's ethical practices code. The sole charge upheld against Coia in the March 8 decision was over conflict of interest resulting from the purchase of an expensive sports car from an auto dealer in Providence, R.I., which also was a union vendor. Coia was fined $100,000, payable over two years for that "direct conflict of interest" (46 DLR AA-1, 3/10/99).

 

The parties had 10 business days from the date of Vaira's decision to file an appeal with Neil Eggleston, LIUNA's appellate hearing officer.

 

Asked whether there was pressure from the Justice Department to appeal the IHO's decision, Luskin said "they've had an opportunity to express their views," as has Coia. "We consulted with anyone who wanted to comment," he said, but made "an independent decision to appeal based on the merits."

 

Coia, who also could have appealed the portion of the decision levying a fine against him for a conflict-of-interest violation, has decided not to appeal. Howard Gutman, one of the attorneys who represented Coia in the hearings last spring, said March 24 that "in light of the GEB attorney's narrow appeal," his client had decided not to cross appeal.

 

DOJ Sees Factual, Legal Errors in Ruling

 

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, March 24 said he was not surprised to hear that Luskin is appealing Vaira's decision. He noted that U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar and James Robinson, assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, had expressed disappointment with the Coia decision and had encouraged the Office of the GEB Attorney to appeal it.

 

Samborn said the Justice Department believes Vaira's ruling contains significant "factual and legal errors." Samborn declined to discuss the decision in a specific manner, but said Vaira, in several instances, failed to apply legal precedents established by Eggleston in previous appellate decisions. Samborn said the department also questioned several of Vaira's factual findings. Several of those findings pertained to the credibility of witnesses.

 

The Coia investigation was conducted as part of an unusual consent decree negotiated in 1995 between LIUNA and the Justice Department that allows the union to root out corrupt practices through internal reforms. The Justice Department has threatened to file an already prepared 212-page civil complaint under the federal racketeering statute and take over the union if the union fails to achieve significant reform.

 

Vaira's decision followed 22 days of hearings over three months last spring that produced 5,500 pages of testimony from 19 witnesses and more than 700 exhibits. Vaira is a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the former executive director of the President's Commission on Organized Crime.


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