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Ex-Teamster Chief's Conviction Stands : High Court Refuses to Hear Roy Williams' Appeal in Bribery Case

February 26, 1985|PHILIP HAGER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court refused Monday to review the 1982 conviction of former Teamsters President Roy L. Williams, opening the way for his imprisonment for conspiring to bribe a U.S. senator.

The justices, in brief orders issued without dissent, rejected appeals from Williams and three others found guilty of a 1979 attempt to bribe Howard W. Cannon, then a Democratic senator from Nevada. A fifth convicted defendant, Teamsters pension fund consultant Allen M. Dorfman, was shot to death in gangland style in 1983.

Forced to Resign

The 69-year-old Williams, the third Teamsters leader in a 25-year period to be convicted of a federal crime, was forced to resign as head of the nation's largest union in 1983. He was sentenced to a maximum of 55 years and fined $29,000, but he was freed while he went to the Supreme Court to challenge the wiretap evidence used against him.

In another action Monday, the court, over two vigorous dissents, left intact a federal appellate ruling that upheld the dismissal of an Ohio high school guidance counselor who disclosed to colleagues that she was bisexual.

Dissenters criticized the court majority for passing up the chance to decide whether the Constitution permits public employees to be fired for expressing their sexual preference. The court has already agreed to decide a related issue this term--whether public school teachers may be dismissed for encouraging or advocating homosexuality.

Taped Conversations

Williams' widely watched bribery-conspiracy trial lasted nearly two months, with the government introducing hundreds of tape-recorded conversations gleaned from 20,000 hours of court-approved electronic surveillance by the FBI.

A court order was obtained initially for a wiretap on Dorfman's business telephone during an investigation of whether he maintained a hidden ownership in Nevada gambling casinos. Later, however, some of the recorded conversations implicated Dorfman and others in a bribery plot involving Cannon.

According to the government, the conspirators planned to obtain for the senator the exclusive right to purchase a plot of land owned by the Teamster pension fund in Las Vegas. In return, they hoped to assure Cannon's opposition to legislation then pending for deregulation of the trucking industry.

The bribery attempt failed, and the land was sold on the open market. Deregulation was enacted. Cannon, who was defeated in a reelection campaign in 1982, was never charged.

In Poor Health

Williams was convicted in federal court in Chicago and drew a maximum of 55 years, with the understanding that the term would be reduced pending an assessment of his health. He has suffered from chronic emphysema.

Andrew G. Massa, a former Teamster pension fund trustee, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison, and Thomas F. O'Malley, another former trustee, drew a 30-month term. Both were free pending appeal. Another convicted defendant, alleged underworld figure Joseph Lombardo, received a 15-year term that he has already begun serving. Dorfman was killed before sentencing.

In his appeal to the Supreme Court (Williams vs. U.S., 84-256), the former Teamsters leader contended, among other things, that 33 wiretapped conversations heard before authorities notified the court that a bribery plot was afoot should not have been admitted as evidence.

Nathan Lewin of Washington, an attorney for Williams, said that his client would consider a petition seeking a rehearing before the Supreme Court. Unless it grants such review, the case will be returned to federal court in Chicago for final imposition of sentence.

Admitted Homosexuality

The school case (Rowland vs. Mad River School District, 84-532) concerned disclosures made in 1974 by Marjorie H. Rowland, then a guidance counselor at a school in Montgomery County, Ohio. Rowland's contract was not renewed after she allegedly told other school employes that she was "in love" with another woman, disclosed that two students she was counseling were homosexuals and urged an angry mother to accept the apparent homosexuality of her son.

The counselor brought suit charging that her right to free speech had been violated. She won a $56,000 damage award from a trial jury that found that she had been improperly dismissed solely because of her sexual orientation. But a federal appeals court in Cincinnati, in a 2-1 decision, overturned the verdict, finding that Rowland's statements did not involve a matter of "public concern" and thus were not entitled to constitutional protection.

Justice William J. Brennan Jr., joined by Justice Thurgood Marshall, issued an 11-page dissent from the court's decision not to hear Rowland's appeal. Contrary to the appellate ruling, the debate over homosexual rights was an "explosive issue," Brennan said, and the counselor's statements did indeed touch on a "public concern."

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