Judge chastises U.S. Attorney's Office in union case

District Judge Michael Baylson
District Judge Michael Baylson
Posted: March 15, 2014

PHILADELPHIA A federal judge chastised prosecutors Thursday for failing to devote what he deemed to be sufficient manpower to a racketeering conspiracy case against members of a Philadelphia ironworkers union, even as government lawyers said they would likely file additional charges against the men.

U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson said he expected U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger to assign two more lawyers to the case by Monday or he would convene a hearing on the issue.

"This is not acceptable," the judge told Robert Livermore, the lone prosecutor representing the government at a pretrial hearing Thursday. "I can't see how a case like this can be filed without those assignments made."

Baylson, a former U.S. attorney, said he knew from experience the resources necessary to handle a case involving hundreds of taped phone conversations, dozens of text messages, and more than 160 boxes of documents seized from Ironworkers Local 401 headquarters. He expressed concern that a lack of government staffing could lead to delays during the run-up to a trial.

"We consider this a priority case of the U.S. Attorney's Office," said Louis D. Lappen, Memeger's first assistant. "We have devoted and will continue to devote substantial resources to the case."

Veteran prosecutors described Baylson's comments in court as unusual, especially coming before any specific deadlines had been missed.

Peter Vaira, who served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania from 1978 to 1983, said such requests would normally come to him informally through a phone call or in-chambers conference.

Others questioned whether Baylson's remarks overstepped the line separating judicial and executive branch functions.

Memeger "has as much authority to file a motion telling the judge to hire three more clerks as the judge does to tell him how to run his office," said Kenneth Wainstein, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who later served in several Justice Department leadership positions under President George W. Bush.

Baylson served as U.S. attorney for the judicial district including Philadelphia from 1988 to 1993. Bush appointed him to the federal bench in 2002.

Memeger, a 2010 appointee of President Obama, unveiled the case against the 10 ironworkers union members last month with a fanfare afforded to only a few cases each year.

The grand jury indictment accuses several of the organization's top leaders, including longtime head Joseph Dougherty, of waging a years-long campaign to secure jobs for union members through extortion, sabotage, and harassment of contractors.

Dougherty and his codefendants have denied the charges.

Since that document was unsealed, several more accusers have alleged that they, too, were singled out by the defendants, and prosecutors could seek additional charges based on those allegations, said Livermore.

"We're still investigating this case," he said.




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