TRENTON - The leader of the state workers union sued national Communications Workers of America union leaders in federal court yesterday, alleging they have illegally retaliated against her.

Carla Katz alleges the national officials are pursuing baseless claims against her and smearing her name as revenge for her opposition in 2007 to a state contract.

The contract increased salaries but required higher health and pension contributions from workers.

Katz is the head of Local 1034, the CWA's largest local. It represents 16,000 workers, most of them state employees.

The CWA investigation of Katz stems from allegations by other union members that she misspent union money - such as a $20,800 donation to Newark Mayor Cory Booker - and intervened in a lawsuit that Republicans filed against Gov. Corzine to gain access to e-mails he exchanged with Katz, whom he used to date.

Katz wants the e-mails kept private and contends all spending by the local was proper.

Her lawyer, Paul Fishman, said Katz was fighting for the right of elected union leaders to express views without fear of retaliation.

"The leadership of the union retaliated against Carla because she fought against the ratification of a contract that she believed hurt CWA members," Fishman said. "This pattern of retaliatory conduct left Carla with no choice but to file this suit."

Besides naming national CWA officials, the lawsuit names several regional and local union officials.

CWA District 1 spokesman Bob Master called the lawsuit a "last-ditch maneuver to derail a serious investigation."

"It's very clear what's going on here," he said. "There is an ongoing union investigation of Katz's conduct, and she's trying to stop it, plain and simple."

Katz wants a federal judge to prohibit CWA officials from prosecuting the allegations against her. Her lawsuit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

The CWA has appointed an investigator to look into the allegations against Katz.

An April 30 letter from CWA president Larry Cohen to the union's national executive board questions whether Katz approved the Booker donation because of a "close personal relationship" with the mayor.

An unauthorized campaign contribution would break the union's financial-management regulations, which could result in penalties ranging from a fine to suspension or expulsion from the CWA, according to the letter.

Katz is a 26-year CWA member serving her ninth year as Local 1034 president. She is running to be vice president of District 1, which represents more than 190,000 members in 327 locals in New York, New Jersey, New England and eastern Canada.

Katz gained attention during Corzine's successful 2005 gubernatorial campaign when it was revealed she had dated the multimillionaire and that he had paid off the mortgage on her house and had given her other gifts they have refused to disclose.