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Totten trial chairwoman: the fix wasn't in

Like my former colleague Dan Kennedy, I've wondered whether Dan Totten's ouster as head of the Boston Newspaper Guild might be connected to Totten's hardline stance during acrimonious contract negotiations with the New York Times Co. earlier this year.

But according to Globe reporter Maria Cramer--who chaired the trial board that found Totten guilty of assorted charges yesterday, and subsequently expelled him from the union--that's absolutely, positively not the case. 

"I find that suggestion"--i.e., that Totten's trial represented a form of payback--"to be insulting in the least," Cramer says. "We spent nearly four hours looking at the evidence, which was lengthy and very detailed.... It's a duty that we took extremely seriously. We understood that the result would probably meet with this kind of criticism. But at the same time, I definitely feel we made the right decision--I have no doubt about that--and that it was free of politics.

"We had tons of questions about the evidence. We went through everything we had even the slightest doubt about--not only because we knew there'd be an appeal process, but also because Dan Totten wasn't there to defend himself, and we wanted to make sure to be as fair to him as possible."

As the Herald reported today, Totten has said he couldn't get a fair trial because some trial-board members had been involved in a previous push to remove him as president. But Cramer argues that this description is too simplistic.

"The prosecutor [in the union trial], Sean Murphy, twice voted 'No' against the contract," Cramer says. (Totten formally supported the new contract that the Guild's members approved in July, but also seemed to be urging its rejection in not-so-subtle ways.) "The accuser, [treasurer] Patrice Sneyd, is somebody who was always considered a Dan Totten ally, and had worked with him a long time. I can't really get into detail about the witnesses, but some of the people who spoke during the trial board were people that have long been considered Dan Totten allies, not people who were seeking to have him ousted or signed any kind of recall petition."

Cramer raises one more point worth pondering--namely, that given the sharp divide in the Guild over whether to give the Times Co. its requested concessions, finding trial participants who lacked a strong opinion about Totten's leadership might have been impossible. (The trial-board members, she notes, were randomly chosen.)

"I spoke with [Guild recording secretary] Kathy McCabe before the trial started, to say, 'I know I've been chosen as chairwoman, and I believe I can be impartial and fair. But I want to let you know, many petitions have gone out, and my signature could be on one of them.' And she said, 'Maria, if you didn't sign any kind of petition you'd been seen as having one position--and if you did sign, you'd be seen as having another.' There was no way the union was going to pick people who didn't feel very strongly about the situation, one way or another." 

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