To a Boston labor lawyer, the acquittal of four Teamsters accused of trying to strongarm the “Top Chef” television show was a just outcome.
“The very fact that the case was prosecuted was considered by many of us [labor lawyers] to be an abuse of process’’ by former US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who oversaw the investigation before leaving office this year, Ira Sills said.
The Teamsters, he said, might have been “a little bit aggressive,’’ might have said things that the stars and production crew for the television show did not like, and might have been confrontational outside the Steel & Rye restaurant in Milton in 2014.
But, he said, what they did was always clearly legal under federal law to him and other labor lawyers. Sills said evidence during the trial showed the four men were trying to obtain jobs for members of Local 25, not to put cash into their own pockets.
“The law protects labor union folks and their First Amendment rights to picket, and to say some things that people may not like, as in this case,’’ Sills said. “But the statute really requires for them to be found guilty beyond a doubt . . . that the people accused were trying to extort money for their own gain.’’
Sills suggested that his opposition to criminalizing the Teamsters action could be better understood by framing the circumstances differently.
“If the picketers were civil rights activists seeking more minority hiring and they were equally aggressive, one wonders whether Carmen Ortiz or the US attorney would have prosecuted them,’’ he said. “I would suggest the answer to that is: I don’t think so.”
Sills is an instructor in labor law at Northeastern University School of Law.