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Union leadership accused of ‘malicious and self-serving’ actions

Leonard Santucci

An educator told the Supreme Court that the Bermuda Union of Teachers had blocked him from running for union office after he sought to raise serious concerns with members.

Leonard Santucci, the BUT representative for the Berkeley Institute, had called for the courts to deliver an interim order to halt a meeting he understood was intended to remove him from the union.

He had also called for a union election to be delayed as his suspension had rendered him ineligible to run.

In a hearing on Friday, counsel for Dr Santucci accepted the application was “moot” because the election had already gone ahead and the meeting was not scheduled to take place.

However, Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams said he would be allowed to file further legal actions to challenge his suspension and the actions of the union leadership.

The dispute arose last month after Dr Santucci led a group of members in calling for a special meeting to overturn decisions made by the union’s executive committee without general membership consent.

He was suspended from the union, which meant he was not be eligible to run in union elections, scheduled to take place on October 20 and 21.

A letter from Anthony Wolffe, the union’s new general secretary, said the suspension came because Dr Santucci breached confidentiality by speaking to the media on “internal union business” discussed at a representatives’ meeting and in internal correspondence.

At the hearing held in the Supreme Court, Vaughn Caines, counsel for Dr Santucci, said the union leadership’s “malicious and self-serving” actions had hindered his clients ability to seek office within the union.

He said Dr Santucci’s suspension was given without notification or an opportunity for him to defend himself, and that the union leadership intended to stifle debate.

Mr Caines said Dr Santucci sought a declaration that the union wrongfully suspended the plaintiff and that the plaintiff’s behaviour was not “treasonous”.

He also called on the courts to find that the defendant infringed on Dr Santucci’s fundamental human rights by wrongly suspending him.

However Mrs Justice Subair Williams said the complaints before the court and relief requested did not mesh with what was sought at an emergency hearing on October 20.

At that meeting, Mr Caines had called for an interim order to halt a meeting at which Dr Santucci’s expulsion from the union was to be discussed and union elections.

Mr Caines said: “At the time my information was that on the 20 and 21 of October there were going to be elections and a meeting regarding the expulsion of Dr Santucci.

“Subsequent to receiving the affidavit of Mr Wolffe, we ascertained there was not going to be a meeting on that day regarding Dr Santucci’s potential expulsion, but there were going to be elections.

“Through his suspension, Dr Santucci would not be allowed to run.”

Kyle Masters, counsel for the union, called for the matter to be struck out entirely at the cost of the plaintiffs as Mr Caines had himself acknowledged that the interim order – the purpose of the hearing – was moot.

Mr Masters said that Dr Santucci could file a new matter to address his complaints about his suspension and the union’s finances, but the current matter should be ended and legal costs dealt with.

Mrs Justice Subair Williams told Mr Caines that he had accepted the previous court hearing was held because of the meeting, and that matter had been addressed.

She said the interim injunction originally requested was no longer necessary, and the relief now sought did not match what was requested in the earlier hearing.

Mrs Justice Subair Williams said that because Mr Caines never filed an originating document — which would detail the case and the proposed relief — it would be an abuse of the court process to allow the matter to continue.

She added: “This does not prevent you on instruction from filing an originating document separate and seeking any relief that on instruction you feel your client is able to seek.”

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