If stealing money is enough to get someone thrown out of a union, what does that say about falsely accusing someone of stealing money from a union? That’s the question before Ramsey County (Minnesota) District Court, in reviewing a claim by a former treasurer of a St. Paul public employees’ union, Local 21 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, against current president Pat Flanagan. Flanagan stated at a union meeting last year that then-treasurer Fred Babekuhl mishandled a check in 2005 for more than $3,000. Babekuhl responded with a lawsuit charging defamation of character.
Babekuhl, who is seeking more than $50,000 in damages, had scheduled a meeting to explain to union executive board members that he had signed the check over to a law firm to pay for a certain union expense. Not long after, the union leadership cancelled the meeting. Babekuhl insists it was because “Flanagan had influenced some members to change their minds.” A spokeswoman for the Ramsey County attorney’s office said that Babekuhl had not been charged with any crime. In responding to the suit, lawyers for Local 21 deny many of the allegations, and say that Babekuhl was not authorized to sign over the check. Calling the suit frivolous, they insisted Flanagan’s statements at the meeting were true or a matter of expressed opinion. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/21/07).