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State Sen. Troy Brown

Advocate file photo by April Buffington

The day after state Sen. Troy Brown pleaded no contest to domestic abuse battery, much of the talk among legislators was about how to react.

New Orleans Rep. Helena Moreno again called for Brown to resign.

But whether legislators want to force Brown’s hand, should he refuse to quit, is really up to the Louisiana Senate under the state Constitution.

Caution: The audio file below contains offensive language.

 

Senate President John A. Alario said Thursday he has been hearing from senators who are looking to either suspend or expel Brown if he won't resign.

The first step down the path to disciplining Brown would be for one of his Senate colleagues to file a resolution spelling out the punishment sought. That could come as early as February, Alario said. Senators haven’t convened to consider punishing one of their own in 35 years.

Alario, R-Westwego, wouldn’t say who among the 39 senators has approached him, and he declined to take a position on Thursday because he would preside over any hearing.

Brown, an Assumption Parish Democrat in his second term, on Wednesday entered his second "no contest" plea to a criminal charge alleging he committed violence against a woman — a deal he struck with Ascension Parish misdemeanor prosecutors to avoid a trial.

Brown did not dispute allegations that he bit his wife during a struggle over a cell phone in their home last July, but he did not admit civil liability. He did not return calls for comment on Thursday.

Ad hoc Judge Frank Foil, a retired appellate judge, fined Brown $300, gave him to 30 days in jail — but suspended all but 48 hours — and ordered him to do 64 hours of community service and participate in a domestic violence program. Brown also got three months of probation and was assessed other costs.

He previously pleaded no contest in a separate incident in which he was accused of punching his girlfriend in the eye hours after the 2015 Bayou Classic football game in New Orleans in 2015.

A 911 call that Brown's wife made on July 17 from the bedroom at their Geismar home sheds new light on the biting incident. The Advocate obtained the nearly 11-minute recording Thursday, as well as the full sheriff's report, following a public records request with the 23rd Judicial District Attorney's Office.

In the 911 recording, a clearly agitated Sen. Brown can be heard in an expletive-laden tirade about his wife calling law enforcement. 

“Yes, ma’am, I’m here. What’s going on?” the 911 dispatcher asked.

“Ma’am, I don’t know. He came home. I’m sitting up …” Toni Baker Brown said.

“No, you was sitting up here acting stupid. That’s what you was acting,” Sen. Brown broke in, shouting. “Tell her right, OK? Call it right.”

During parts of the call, the Browns' son can be heard crying and saying "stop it" in the background. 

Eventually Toni Brown described her husband attacking her, which occurred after he entered their bedroom and she was watching television.  

"And I say, 'Go on about your business. I say I'm watching TV,'" Toni Brown told the dispatcher.

She said Sen. Brown pulled the television down to the ground.

Though her later accounts to deputies and to a civil court papers would differ on some particulars, Brown tells the dispatcher that Sen. Brown went toward her in the bed, pushed her and eventually a struggle happened over the cellphone.

"Then he goes to get my phone, and I take my phone -- and I try to take my phone -- but by this time, he has me down in the bed and he bit me," Toni Brown tells the dispatcher. "I got a big black bruise on my arm."

Deputies would later observe that Sen. Brown had a scratch on his face with a small amount of blood. According to a report, he told a deputy he didn't think his wife had caused it because their dispute was not physical. Toni Brown later told deputies and wrote in civil papers that she either pushed her hand in the senator's face or around his neck while trying to defend herself.

Toni Brown told the dispatcher that she and her husband previously had past incidents. 

Though Brown doesn't describe those incidents amid the turmoil that night, she later alleged to deputies and in court papers that he had previously physically abused her.

Later in the dispatch tape, Toni Brown said the senator was drunk that night. He told deputies he had been drinking before he came home.  

Four senators, speaking Thursday on condition of anonymity because the matter is still in negotiation, said members are talking about what an appropriate punishment might be. Some want Brown expelled, while others argue that he should only be suspended.

To do either, a resolution would have to be filed. The four senators said a draft resolution calling for Brown’s expulsion is circulating but only as a working copy. The wording of the resolution won’t be finalized until after some consensus is reached on what discipline to seek.

“It’s something we should take seriously,” said Sen. Danny Martiny, a Metairie Republican who also serves as the chamber’s parliamentarian and is not part of the negotiations. “I would expect, given the tenor of debate concerning domestic violence, that someone is going to file a resolution.”

Under Senate Rule 17, a senator would have to file a resolution, and then the chamber would convene as a Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion.

Rather than operating in the style of a trial, such a hearing in the Senate Chamber would operate more like a committee hearing, in which the senators may ask questions, Secretary of the Senate Glenn Koepp said. It also would be open to the public.

In such hearings, a targeted senator is allowed to bring a lawyer and present rebuttal testimony. 

Twenty-six senators would have to vote to discipline.

Koepp said the rules were established in 1981 to handle three-term Baton Rouge Sen. Gaston Gerald, who had been convicted in 1979 of attempting to extort $25,000 from a contractor and was sentenced to federal prison in Fort Worth. The Senate voted 33-3 to expel him.

That's the only time the procedure has been used. 

Rep. Moreno first called upon Brown to step aside from his Senate seat after news broke of the second domestic abuse allegations. Fellow Democrats, Gov. John Bel Edwards and state Sen. JP Morrell of New Orleans, as well as Republicans like then-State Treasurer and now-U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and the state GOP, also called for Brown's resignation at the time.

Following news of Brown's no contest plea, Moreno on Thursday called again for his immediate resignation.

"We need lawmakers in the Legislature who will be champions for these women and, more broadly, live by and uphold Louisiana's values," she said. "It time we stand together – men, women, Republican, Democrat – and say that this type of behavior will not be tolerated."

Brown has so far indicated he doesn't plan to resign. As he left the courthouse Wednesday evening, Brown said he would be releasing a statement. That statement has not yet been received.

State Democratic Party leaders met Thursday morning to discuss the situation.

"Leadership of the Louisiana Democratic Party is extremely troubled by the ongoing issues surrounding Sen. Brown," Louisiana Democratic Party executive director Stephen Handwerk said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.