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Published: Friday, 5/22/2009

2 UT professors sue fire, police unions

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Friday hearing scheduled in Lucas County Common Pleas Court in the defamation case filed by two University of Toledo economic professors against the local police and fire unions has been continued.

Oleg Smirnov and David Black filed a complaint Thursday against the Toledo Firefighters Union Local 92 and its president, Jim Martin, as well as the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association and its president, Dan Wagner.

The two professors claimed statements made by the men and published by the unions in regard to their work on the city's income tax projections were false. As part of the complaint, the professors asked for a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief.

A pretrial conference will be held Tuesday in front of Judge James Jensen.

The story as it appeared in earlier editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com:

Claiming to be used as pawns in the ongoing labor battle between Toledo's police and fire unions and the city, two University of Toledo economics professors whose income tax revenue forecast was used to project the city's financial crisis now are in court alleging defamation.

Oleg Smirnov and David Black filed a complaint in Lucas County Common Pleas Court yesterday against the Toledo Firefighters Union Local 92 and its president, Jim Martin, as well as the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association and its president, Dan Wagner.

The two professors claimed that statements made by the men and published by the unions in regard to their work on the city's income tax projections were false and have caused harm to their "integrity, character, teaching ability, and professional career."

The two men are seeking unspecified monetary damages.

Attached to the complaint was a request for a temporary restraining order and injunctive relief, asking that the defendants be prohibited from defaming the two men through "interviews with the media, billboards, and newsletters published on the Internet."

The two sides are scheduled to meet today in a hearing before Judge Frederick McDonald, who will hear the case on behalf of Judge James Jensen, to whom the case was assigned.

A fire union billboard about the University of Toledo professors who prepared the city s budget forecast is among the statements the lawsuit calls defamatory. A fire union billboard about the University of Toledo professors who prepared the city s budget forecast is among the statements the lawsuit calls defamatory.
NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

"The defendants' deliberate and concerted efforts to discredit plaintiffs through false statements have been pursued with one purpose in mind, sway public sentiment concerning their labor contracts," the lawsuit said. " Specifically, and without limitation, defendants have made false statements about the plaintiffs through a billboard, through statements to the media, and on the Internet, which they knew, or reasonably should have known, would be widely publicized."

Mr. Wagner referred comment to the union's attorney, Donato Iorio, who could not be reached for comment. Mr. Martin was also unavailable for comment yesterday.

According to the lawsuit, city officials contracted with the university in the second quarter of 2008 to forecast the city's income tax revenue. Mr. Smirnov and Mr. Black, who were chosen by the university to provide the forecast, created a model that they used to predict future income tax revenues and subsequently presented the city with reports, the lawsuit said.

"A forecast, by its nature, is a mere prediction of a possible future event," the lawsuit said. "Plaintiffs developed a model, based upon sound economic principles, that they believed would provide the City of Toledo with the best available prediction of future income tax revenues. Plaintiffs were never asked and never provided any projections regarding a budget deficit."

Seventy-five members of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association were laid off May 1 to help plug the city's deficit. An additional 48 general fund employees - including civilians working in the police department - were laid off May 15.

The layoffs were ordered after the administration lowered its 2009 income tax estimate from $169.7 million to $145 million in February based on the professors' analysis of the dramatic downturn in the local economy.

In recent interviews with Mr. Wagner, the union leader criticized the numbers, claiming that Mr. Smirnov testified that his forecast may have been off by $10 million to $20 million.

It was statements like these as well as claims that the professors lost the data used to project the deficit that the lawsuit pointed to as defamatory, including a statement on a fire union billboard - since taken down - at 714 Washington in downtown Toledo which stated, "Professor Black & Smirnov lose data used to project deficit."

Attorney Renisa Dorner, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the two professors, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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