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Ex-Union Chief Sues Witnesses

The day before she was to face criminal charges, former union President Janett Humphries filed a civil lawsuit Thursday alleging that key prosecution witnesses against her were the actual agents of an alleged plot to make secret campaign contributions to former Los Angeles City Councilman Martin Ludlow.

An attorney for Humphries said he intends to question under oath other politicians who got support from Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union to look for more signs of illegal union campaign activities.

"Most of the political community and elected community in Los Angeles will be given a chance to testify on this, including but not limited to the mayor," said Ricardo A. Torres II, an attorney for Humphries.

Despite his reference to the mayor, the suit does not name Antonio Villaraigosa. A representative of the mayor said Humphries' legal team includes former City Councilman Nick Pacheco, whom Villaraigosa defeated in a bitter City Council race in 2003.

There is no evidence that Villaraigosa received any illegal assistance from Local 99, which, during the 2005 election, backed incumbent James K. Hahn against Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa, however, has long been close to Ludlow, whom he described as being "like a son to me" even as Ludlow was preparing to resign his post after eight months as head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and was negotiating a plea bargain with prosecutors who suspect that the union made illegal contributions to his successful 2003 campaign for City Council.

Humphries' lawsuit also alleges that higher-ups in the international union used a fleet of phone-banking vans to help other candidates.

The suit came the same day the district attorney's office told Humphries to appear in Superior Court this afternoon, where she is expected to face at least one felony charge of conspiring to illegally provide union funds to benefit Ludlow's council campaign.

It was uncertain whether Ludlow would appear at the same hearing to enter a plea bargain admitting to a role in the union-funding scheme, or whether a possible deal would be submitted to the court at another time.

He has agreed to cooperate with investigators who are prosecuting Humphries, but he has not publicly admitted committing a crime.

Ludlow recently announced his resignation as executive secretary-treasurer of the county labor federation after facing a months-long investigation by the U.S. attorney, the district attorney and city Ethics Commission.

Prosecutors suspect that Ludlow's council campaign received at least $53,000 in secret help from Local 99 in the form of campaign workers, cellphones, computers and phone banking equipment.

City campaign laws limit direct contributions to a council campaign to $500. The union represents 38,000 school employees who are not teachers, including classroom aides, bus drivers and mechanics.

Humphries' attorneys are, in effect, warning that they may try to expand the case beyond a narrow focus on Humphries and Ludlow over alleged illegalities in his campaign.

In addition to supporting Ludlow, Local 99 has provided legal contributions over the years to City Councilman Tom LaBonge, Los Angeles Board of Education members Julie Korenstein, Jon Lauritzen and David Tokofsky, as well as Villaraigosa in 2001
and 2003.

Those contributions were reported and within local limits. Thomas Saenz, the mayor's chief counsel, said he has not been informed that the mayor's name has come up or will come up in the investigation.

"There is no conceivable circumstance where it would be appropriate for the mayor to be dragged into a suit as a witness," Saenz said.

Prosecutors in the case declined to say whether their investigation was focused on campaigns other than Ludlow's.

Humphries' lawsuit seeks $5 million for "intentional infliction of emotional distress," and names Thomas Newbery, Local 99's former chief of operations, and Rhoda Conde, the union's former bookkeeper.

"On March 3, 2006, Humphries will be charged with a felony in state court, largely as a result of the direct, unknown and unauthorized actions of Newbery and Conde on behalf of the Ludlow 2003 primary campaign," the lawsuit alleges.

Humphries denies any involvement in the Ludlow political campaign.

"During his 2003 primary campaign, Martin Ludlow approached Humphries regarding assisting his campaign," the lawsuit says.

"As was her custom, Humphries directed Ludlow to Newbery and informed Ludlow that all political matters went through Newbery. Upon information and belief, Humphries alleges that Newbery and Local 99 bookkeeper Conde facilitated, without
Humphries' knowledge, all alleged Local 99 actions on behalf of Ludlow."

Fred Woocher, an attorney for Conde and Newbery, denied the allegations on behalf of his clients Thursday.

"The factual allegations are a ludicrous fantasy that are a radical departure from the truth," Woocher said.

He also predicted that the lawsuit would not be pursued to trial.

"The lawsuit is absolutely frivolous as a matter of law," Woocher said.

"It is clearly being done only in an effort to provide legal cover for libelous statements that they believe are protected because they put them in a lawsuit," he said.

The lawsuit calls Newbery "de facto president" of Local 99. It says Humphries began working with the Los Angeles Unified School District as a parental volunteer before becoming a special education assistant.

"In or about 1991, Humphries was approached by Newbery suggesting that she run for president of Local 99, despite her limited experience in the union and no experience in management," the lawsuit said.

Newbery's job, according to the lawsuit, included coordinating Local 99's external political program. The suit alleges that he created a firm called Telincs Inc. that is mostly owned by the union, that he ran and that provided phone banking for campaigns. The firm borrowed $663,773 from the union to keep operating in recent years.

Telincs ran a fleet of trailers with 100 automatic dialers that could make up to 40 calls per hour, per phone, the lawsuit said.

The dialers were used to help candidates campaigning across the country, the suit alleges.

"Consequently, Telincs became a political powerhouse in the state of California and on the local political scene," the suit said.

"Humphries is informed and believes that key employees of the international utilized the services of Telincs for national campaigns and the creation of similar services in other SEIU locals."

A firm could be in violation of campaign finance laws if it provided phone banking to help a candidate without reporting the financial value of the assistance.

Ben Boyd, a spokesman for the international headquarters of the SEIU, said, "We do not comment on allegations. We will continue to work with investigators as they request."

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