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Ex-union lead told to wait for vote

A judge says he will not intervene unless the suspension appeal of the ex-president fails.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published May 19, 2005


TAMPA - Karl Schmitt, ousted president of the local union representing Hillsborough County firefighters, will have to seek reinstatement from the union's international umbrella organization before a judge will intervene.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Rex Barbas, wary of getting into the middle of a contentious union dispute, said Wednesday he will consider Schmitt's request that the court return him to office only if international union leaders refuse to take up Schmitt's suspension appeal.

Schmitt was suspended April 4 from his second term after union leaders told him he owed $4,112.50 in legal fees. Schmitt accrued the fees while consulting with union attorney Jeffrey Carnes about a candidate who was contesting a late 2004 union election.

Union leaders did not send Schmitt written notice of the suspension or give him a hearing, as outlined in union bylaws.

Attorneys for the union said that's because Schmitt's suspension was a special circumstance resulting from the legal charges he owed.

Schmitt maintained he should not have to pay the fees because he was tending to union matters. But he went to a union meeting April 4 and offered to pay the fee "in protest" in exchange for reinstatement, knowing his appeal of the fee to international union leaders was to be considered in coming months.

Union leaders refused to accept the check and escorted him from the union hall.

Tuesday, acting president Richard Sawyer testified via conference call that the union did not take the check because leaders were still trying to determine how much Schmitt owed.

Schmitt testified this week that before he left the hall that night, he deleted files from the union-owned laptop computer on which he kept personal information as well as files related to union contract negotiations with the county.

Union attorney Robert Miles said Schmitt's deletion of sensitive union information means "the union cannot trust Mr. Schmitt any longer" and should not be expected to reinstate him.

The judge did give Schmitt one legal victory this week. Tuesday, he ordered union leaders to postpone a hastily-called recall election so that Schmitt has 30 days to issue campaign materials urging voting union members to restore him to his leadership position.

The two-day election was to have begun Wednesday, but Barbas ordered it be held June 16 and 17 instead.

Even if he were reinstated to the presidency now, Schmitt could be voted out later.

Then again, his attorney said, he could be voted back in.

"Every day he is not in office, he is being denied part of the three-year term to which he was elected," attorney John D. Goldsmith said.

[Last modified May 19, 2005, 00:42:10]


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