LEGAL WRANGLING STOPS CLOCK IN ILA LAWSUIT FEDS WANT ACCUSED TO PAY THEIR OWN BILLS

LEGAL WRANGLING STOPS CLOCK IN ILA LAWSUIT FEDS WANT ACCUSED TO PAY THEIR OWN BILLS

The federal government wants waterfront union leader John Bowers and 25 local officers of the International Longshoremen's Association to pay their own legal bills in the government's bid to have them all thrown out of office. But the union is fighting back.

Wrangling over how defense lawyers will be paid stopped the clock Thursday in the U.S. attorney's lawsuit attempting to oust the 26 officers from their positions in six New York area locals of the ILA. The government initiated the case last month, charging systematic violations of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act on the New York-New Jersey waterfront.Judge Leonard Sand suspended all deadlines in the case pending his ruling on a motion that ILA officers be required to pay their own legal bills, instead of having them paid from union coffers. The motion was argued Thursday morning by Richard Mark, deputy chief of the civil division for the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The judge's action means indefinite postponement of a March 19 deadline for defendants to respond to government charges. Those charges hold that the 26 current ILA officers, six former ILA officials and 12 other individuals accused of involvement with the Gambino and Genovese Mafia families are all guilty of violating the so-called RICO law.

Named also in the suit are six locals of the union based in Manhattan, Brooklyn and northern New Jersey. They are Local 824, Local 1809, Local 1909, Local 1814, Local 1588 and Local 1804-1. The government wants the officers of these organizations removed and court-appointed trustees put in their places.

Mr. Mark argued that there was a direct conflict of interest between the union officers and the union locals themselves. "Each of the locals should have an independent counsel so they have an undivided loyalty to the local's interest," he said.

The conflict arises, he said, because the government lawsuit seeks to have the union officers "disgorge" personal funds and return them to the bank accounts of the locals.

Ernest Matthews, attorney for Manhattan ILA Local 824, said the government is looking at the union locals "as damsels in distress that need to be rescued." That is not the case, he said, arguing that "the interests of the locals and interests of the officers are the same."

Lawyers representing Brooklyn Local 1814 and Bayonne, N.J., Local 1588 said the hiring of separate attorneys to represent the locals and the individual defendants would place an unfair financial burden on the union officers. Most are being accused of crimes directly connected to their official duties, they said, and are entitled to paid legal assistance from the union.

Mr. Matthews estimated each of the defendants might run up legal bills in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in fighting the government suit.

Requiring that the locals and the individually named officers have separate representation might also turn the courtroom into a circus, he suggested. If each individual defendant and each organization named in the suit is represented separately, there may well be dozens of defense lawyers attending each hearing, he said.

After listening to the lawyers argue these points for over an hour, Judge Sand said he would reserve decision on the issue. He instructed both sides to submit additional documents but did not set a date for his decision.