You know a defense attorney is earning his money when he stands before an overwhelmingly female jury and tells them they should just ignore the misogynistic vulgarity that was being thrown around by a defendant.
That’s essentially what happened Thursday in the federal courthouse, where four Teamsters are on trial, charged with attempted extortion after they demanded that the “Top Chef” reality TV show replace its non-union production crew in 2014.
In closing statements, prosecutors painted the so-called Teamster 4 as menacing goons who hurled venomous slurs and threatened violence outside the film shoot at Steel & Rye restaurant in Milton, while the defense argued that, whatever their clients did, it was not against federal law.
There is little dispute that the four men on trial — Dan Redmond, 41, John Fidler, 53, Robert Cafarelli, 47, and Michael Ross, 62 — engaged in what any sentient human being would consider bullying behavior. They used slurs to demean women, homosexuals, and people of color. At least one of them allegedly slashed 11 tires.
But while disputing some of the specific allegations, their defense is not to categorically insist that none of this egregiously offensive, thuggish behavior took place. Rather, it’s to argue that it is a protected union right to advocate for jobs: that to call a woman the c-word, to deride a man as a “pickle,” to suggest that you might bash a woman’s face in, does not amount to a federal offense.
“This was union activity at play,” said Kevin Barron, Ross’s lawyer. “That’s not corrupt. That’s not unlawful.”
Basically, the defense argued you can say just about anything on a picket line. Anything goes, short of physical violence.
As the late Johnny Cochran might have put it, “If they do not hit, you must acquit.”
But assistant US Attorney Kristina Barclay insisted the Teamsters were chest-bumping the non-union “Top Chef” crew and knocked one of them down.
A brief video taken by a “Top Chef” producer captured some of the Teamsters using profanities and circling around in front of the crew during a standoff outside the restaurant.
“They were not just teasing the crew,” Barclay said. “Redmond was virtually spitting vulgar and misogynistic and racist slurs while Cafarelli punches a fist into his hand.”
Cafarelli’s lawyer, Carmine Lepore, argued, rather unconvincingly, that he wasn’t punching his hand in a way that could be construed as intimidating. Nice try, Carmine.
Oscar Cruz, Redmond’s lawyer, suggested “Top Chef” star Padma Lakshmi, who testified she was terrified by the Teamsters, is a snob and offense was taken because Hollywood types are soft. “This is all exaggeration,” he said. “Hollywood, film people who don’t like being called names and don’t like being harassed.”
Who likes being harassed?
This trial is being watched closely by the labor movement, which fears a conviction will severely curtail what unions can do to advocate for jobs. It is also being closely followed in City Hall. Two of Mayor Marty Walsh’s aides, Kenneth Brissette and Tim Sullivan, are awaiting trial for extortion in a separate case, after they allegedly threatened to wreck the Boston Calling music festival because its organizers refused to hire union workers.
In a case littered with imprudence and vulgarity, at least one witness showed some admirable discretion. Sandee Birdsong, part of the “Top Chef” crew, was asked by prosecutors to describe the men who menaced them.
She said they were white and heavyset, with white hair and big bellies. “I don’t know how to explain that without being rude,” she said.Cullen can be reached at email@example.com.