State senators shot down every request for evidence – even a list of possible witnesses – during their initial hearing Wednesday in a historic effort to discipline one of their own.
State Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville, said after the hearing in the Senate Chamber that he expects his colleagues to vote Monday to expel him. He pleaded no contest twice in a four-month period to misdemeanor domestic violence charges in two separate incidents involving women.
“My gut feel is that it’s pretty obvious that the Senate is going to vote for expulsion. It is my hope that once it gets to the courts and the courts see the various flaws that exist that are contrary to the constitution that legal reason will prevail,” Brown said in an interview after what was a fairly hostile 90 minutes.
His attorney, Jill Craft, of Baton Rouge, called the Senate proceeding “a dog and pony show” without procedures, without rules and without fairness.
Senators overwhelmingly rejected her requests for documents, historical records, information about crimes other legislators may have committed, what evidence would be presented and the identity of witnesses who might be called. They said the disciplinary proceeding was a committee hearing, not a trial.
Craft said Brown, regardless of his crimes, has legal protections, including the constitutional right to due process in whatever disciplinary actions are taken against him.
State Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, argued that the issue is not like in criminal courts where response to Brown’s conduct must be similar to others in the same situation. Rather the decision is whether his conduct was unbecoming a senator. He said Craft was trying to create a legal standard for Brown.
“Despite the legal dancing, the standard is what we determine, as a body, as to what is unbecoming as a senator,” Morrell told his colleagues.
Wednesday’s meeting was aimed at setting up the process for the actual disciplinary hearing, which is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 20.
The Senate could decide Monday whether to kick out Brown or to fine him and suspend him for six weeks. They also could choose another punishment or decide to do nothing. Twenty-six of the 39 members would have to agree.
Brown arrived confident, smiling and shaking hands with his colleagues and supporters in the packed chamber before taking a seat with Craft at a desk in the front.
He and his lawyer earlier Wednesday asked a district court judge in Baton Rouge to block the disciplinary actions.
Update: 10:45 a.m. State District Judge William Morvant denied Troy Brown's request for a te…
State District Judge William Morvant denied Brown's request for a temporary restraining order, saying there was no showing of irreparable harm. But he scheduled a hearing Feb. 23 on the senator's request for preliminary and permanent injunctions.
Craft noted after the judge's ruling that the next court hearing would be after the Senate decides Brown’s fate and after the special session adjourns. That would make the outcome of the judge’s decision moot.
She said she would ask the court to move up the hearing date.
Senate leaders said they would continue with their schedule until they receive a signed order from the court.
Republican Sens. Dan Claitor of Baton Rouge, Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, and Beth Mizell of Franklinton co-sponsored Senate Resolution 3, which would expel Brown. Baton Rouge Democratic Sen. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb filed Senate Resolution 5, seeking a less harsh punishment.
The state Senate will begin considering on Wednesday two competing resolutions – one to susp…
Senators have the constitutional authority to judge the qualifications of fellow members. Under Senate Rule 17, the chamber convenes as a Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion, in which Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, presides as chairman.
In such hearings, a targeted senator is allowed to bring a lawyer and present rebuttal testimony.
The last time senators raised their right hands to be sworn in as members of the special committee was in 1981, when Baton Rouge-area Sen. Gaston Gerald was expelled for not showing up to legislative sessions. He was in federal prison on corruption convictions.
On Wednesday, the Senate considered what subpoenas will be issued for witnesses, as well as for gathering documents and other evidence, for the upcoming disciplinary hearing.
Craft took the microphone and asked for copies of the senators’ emails and text messages from Jan. 15, 2017 to the present.
Claitor objected, noting that the work that goes into creating a bill or a resolution is routinely kept private. He also argued that Craft's requests were overly broad – some asked for more than century’s worth of documentation.
Craft questioned whether the senators already had decided the issue.
“You’re obligated under the law to hear all the evidence presented, and only then make a decision," Craft said. “To the extent that you guys have been communicating with each other, he’s entitled to know.”
Brown also asked to subpoena all criminal records, down to traffic violations, of all members of the Legislature. He asked to question any legislator accused of domestic violence.
Craft argued that the resolutions to expel said all public officials have a duty to obey the law, adding that because Brown was charged with misdemeanors, he has a right to determine if he is being treated differently.
“It’s the nature of the conduct here, it’s not how it was classified,” said state Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie.
“It’s not a question of misdemeanors, it’s a question of beating women multiple times,” Claitor said.
State Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, argued that Brown’s requests were overly broad and not relevant. She offered to provide evidence if requests were limited to similarly situated senators, that is those who have been convicted of a similar crime.
Alario ruled that the law usually applied in civil and criminal trials doesn’t apply in a Senate committee matter, including rules on what evidence must be shared with the accused.
“This is a select committee set out in the rules of the Senate. It is not a trial,” Alario said.
In repeated votes, the Senate rejected Brown’s requests for documents and evidence. Senators wouldn’t allow Brown and his lawyer to see the evidence that would be presented on Monday or to know the identity of the witnesses who would be called.
Claitor said at regular committee hearings a member of the public could come and testify therefore he could not know in advance who appear as required in court. Also, information germane to the issue often comes up during a committee hearing via texts or phone calls.
Brown last month pleaded no contest to a domestic abuse charge arising from an incident involving his wife. He was fined $300, sentenced to 30 days in jail — all but 48 hours were suspended — and he was ordered to do 64 hours of community service as well as participate in a domestic violence program. Brown also got three months of probation and was assessed other costs.
He previously had pleaded no contest, meaning he accepts the validity of the accusations, 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.