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Ronnie Cunningham-Trial by Peers

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Defending himself against numerous charges of misappropriation of union funds and other allegations of misdeeds, suspended Local 44 business agent Ronnie Cunningham has asked for and been granted the option of being tried before “a jury of his peers”—fellow members of the Affiliated Property Craftspersons Union.At a hearing before the Local 44 executive board held at union headquarters on March 29, the 14 charges against Cunningham were read. He then rejected the option of a trial before the board and requested a trial by membership, which is permitted under the guild’s bylaws.The charges against Cunningham include embezzlement, abuse of the union’s callboard, employing illegal surveillance devices, blacklisting members and alcohol-related issues.There was an effort by the Local 44 executive board to negotiate a settlement with Cunningham that would have led to a voluntary departure by the long-time business agent short of a trial, sources told Below the Line, but no agreement was reached.The impeachment proceeding, now tentatively set to begin on May 6 or 7, is considered unprecedented for a major Hollywood guild. Local 44 has approximately 5,700 members, making it one of the largest unions in the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.Any and all members in good standing who decide to attend—not just one session but the entire trial—will be eligible to vote on each impeachment count that is presented. A guilty vote by a simple majority on any one of the counts could lead to Cunningham’s expulsion from the union.Erik Nelson, president of the executive board of Local 44, will preside over the proceedings, which are based on the union’s constitution and bylaws. Besides propmasters, the union represents set decorators, workers in special effects, construction coordinators and workers dealing with greens and miniatures.Cunningham, who promises to mount an all-out defense against the charges, will be represented by Allen Price, a Local 44 member. Craig Raiche, the property master delegate on the Local 44 board, who filed the initial affidavit and subsequent amended allegations, will mainly be responsible for laying out the evidence against Cunningham.Beyond that, uncertainties still abound. No one seems to have any precise notion of how long the trial will take—estimates range from one long single day session to multiple weekends—or how many members will show up, both initially and for its entirety. Cost is also a consideration. Estimates as high as $500,000 have been bruited about.That unpredictability has created numerous questions for the Local 44 board, which at the time this issue of Below the Line went to press, had not yet announced a location, and was mulling over how many guild members were likely to show up. There could be large turnout initially that could dwindle if the proceeding was extended.A paramount problem will be to carefully monitor attendance throughout the duration of the trial to determine who can vote as a juror. Missing any part of the proceeding could block eligibility. Questions of procedure such as admissibility of evidence and the ability to appeal rulings have yet to be clarified.Further complicating things, Raiche himself along with co-complainant Dan Graham has had charges pressed against him by another Local 44 member for “making false accusations in a previous affidavit involving Ronnie Cunningham.” Neither Raiche nor Graham has been suspended, but the charges will be considered at the next meeting of the union’s executive board.

Written by Jack Egan

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