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It’s been a contentious relationship from the beginning. And even as the case against former Washington Teachers’ Union official Gwendolyn Hemphill comes to an end, the bad blood between prosecutors and defense lawyers remains. Hemphill, who was convicted last summer on 23 counts of conspiracy, fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering for her role in pilfering nearly $5 million from the union, is set to be sentenced on May 22 by Judge Richard Leon. Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Cooper, Anthony Alexis, and Jeannie Rhee argue that Hemphill should spend a minimum of 20 years in prison — and because of what prosecutors call her “last-ditch” attempts to feign mental illness, they would welcome an even harsher sentence. “I have never seen prosecutors who are so willing to say or do anything . . . to destroy a 65-year-old grandmother who never hurt anyone,” says lead defense lawyer Nancy Luque of DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary. The government’s reply? “We decline to respond to the comment, other than to state that the record in this matter, which includes the jury’s verdict, speaks for itself,” says Channing Phillips, principal assistant U.S. attorney in D.C. Defense attorneys call the government’s request “a virtual death sentence” for Hemphill, who they maintain suffers from serious mental disorders. They’re asking Hemphill be sentenced to a long period of home incarceration, which she would pay for and during which she could work to repay the union. The government claims tens of thousands of dollars were spent to assess Hemphill’s alleged multiple personalities and hallucinations, which a government expert found either “grossly exaggerated” or “made up.”
Sarah Kelley can be contacted at [email protected].

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