- The Washington Times - Friday, December 3, 2004

A U.S. District Court judge has cleared the way for the Washington Teachers Union to elect a new president nearly two years after an embezzlement scandal that landed the union’s longtime leader, Barbara A. Bullock, in federal prison.

Union member Harold Fisher had sought a court order to block local union elections scheduled for later this month, according to court papers filed last week.

Mr. Fisher, who is running for union president, objected to a ruling by union officials who said retired members such as Mr. Fisher cannot run for the top office.

U.S. District Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle denied Mr. Fisher’s request Nov. 26, ruling that “union bylaws clearly prohibit” his candidacy.

The decision allows the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to move ahead with long-awaited plans to restore local control to the Washington Teachers Union, nearly two years after the AFT took over the 5,000-member organization amid scandal.

The AFT assumed control in January 2003 as details emerged about Bullock’s role in the theft of millions of dollars in union dues between 1995 and 2002.

Last year, Bullock pleaded guilty to her role in the scheme and admitted spending teachers’ dues on artwork, sports tickets and furs. She is serving a nine-year prison sentence.

Federal prosecutors last year indicted Bullock’s executive assistant, Gwendolyn Hemphill, and James O. Baxter II, former union treasurer, on 27 charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and making false statements to federal officials.

The indictment also named James A. Goosby, a tax preparer from Upper Marlboro, and Robin J. Klein, a certified public accountant from Rockville, accusing them of helping hide the theft of union funds by falsifying financial records.

Mrs. Hemphill and Messrs. Baxter, Goosby and Klein are awaiting trial.

Three others were convicted for their roles in the embezzlement scheme last year:

• Errol Alderman, a former D.C. Department of Health employee, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder $483,543 through a fictitious company created to embezzle money for union officials.

• Michael Wayne Martin, Alderman’s business partner and Mrs. Hemphill’s son-in-law, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder $483,543.

• Leroy Holmes, Bullock’s former chauffeur and handyman, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder more than $1 million in illegal proceeds.

The AFT’s move to restore local control comes after local union members adopted a new set of bylaws that pave the way for elections to take place this month.

Once elected, the new officers will take control of the union Jan. 11.

The new bylaws strengthen financial oversight and give members a more active role in the organization, said Terence Cooper, director of communications for the Washington Teachers Union.

Mr. Cooper said union members have until Dec. 27 to return their ballots electing a new slate of union leaders.

The four candidates for president, he said, are: George Parker, a teacher at Elliot Junior High School; Rachel Hicks, a union field representative; Elizabeth Davis, a teacher at Sousa Middle School; and Cleopatra Lawton, a teacher at P.R. Harris Education Center.

Union members are anxious to put the scandal behind them, Mr. Cooper said.

“We hope the changes send a clear message to our members and to the public at large that this union has changed, that this is not the old union,” he said. “It has changed for the better.”

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