Embattled state Sen. Troy Brown announced his resignation Thursday saving the state Senate what was expected to be a bruising battle next week to expel him.
Brown recently pleaded no contest in two separate cases of domestic violence. But he had steadfastly rejected pleas from elected officials that he resign while fighting efforts to throw him out of the upper chamber.
The two-term Napoleonville Democrat said he still feels he was treated unfairly by his colleagues. But he decided to quit in “profound sadness” rather put his family through the proceeding on Monday that he said clearly would have ended in him being the first senator expelled in 35 years.
"It is readily apparent to me that the fair and impartial hearing before my peers will not transpire," Brown said after a Thursday afternoon press conference.
“I herein resign with the sincerest hopes of sparing this precious body any further embarrassment,” he said, reading a statement to reporters with his lawyers and Baton Rouge Democratic Sen. Yvonne Dorsey at his side.
Senate President John A. Alario said Brown delivered his letter about 45 minutes after the press conference.
Under the law, Alario has 10 days to call an election and his lawyers are working with the Secretary of State to come up with a suitable date. He hopes to have someone elected and ready to be seated by the April 10 start date of the regular session of the Legislature.
In the meantime, Brown’s office is being cleaned out, his security access is being deactivated, and his name is being removed from the website, Alario said.
"It’s time to get this behind us and move on," Alario said. "I believe the Senate wants to focus its attention on the budget."
Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statement saying, “Sen. Brown made the right decision for himself, his family and the institution of the Louisiana Senate. I hope he is able to get the help he needs for himself and that his family is able to heal.”
Edwards was one of several elected officials from both parties asking Brown to resign, saying as late as Wednesday that the senator could not effectively represent his 120,000 constituents because of the imbroglio.
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.
"Sen. Brown's resignation allows the Senate to focus on the primary purpose of the special session, which is repairing a $304 million dollar shortfall in our current budget,” said Sen. JP Morrell, a fellow Democrat who called for Brown to resign soon after the arrests. “Also, it brings closure to thousands of victims of domestic violence who have followed this process.”
Brown said he had no immediate plans to run for another elective office or to pursue further legal challenges, though he added that the courts could have easily seen the flaws that existed in the way his case was handled by the Senate.
Senators argued that the state Constitution gives the body the authority to determine what conduct was unbecoming and allowed, with a two-thirds vote, to expel a colleague. The Senate operated under procedures developed in 1981 to expel Baton Rouge-area Sen. Gaston Gerald for not attending the session. He was in federal prison on a conviction for attempted extortion.
Despite not allowing access to documents, witness lists and the criminal records of all legislators, senators argued Brown was given due process, maybe not to the formalized extent allowed in court, but to the rules of the Senate when discipling one of their own. State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge and lead sponsor on the resolution to expel Brown, said the requests were overly broad, asking in some instances for documents going back a century or more. Brown and his lawyer rejected efforts to tailor the requests more narrowly, which Claitor said told him that the requests were designed to be defeated, thereby supporting Brown’s contention that he was being treated differently.
Claitor said he planned to bring out Monday that the law enforcement intake sheets on both crimes, in which the women said they had been victimized before by Brown. Brown’s argument that he was being treated differently because he had pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges was a loop hole, Claitor said.
“In most other states, a second offense is a felony,” Claitor said. Louisiana law differentiates between family and nonfamily victims, so Brown’s second offense was classified as a misdemeanor because the first offense was against a girlfriend.
Brown's attorney Jill Craft repeatedly said that it was within the legislature’s power to change that distinction but it had not, therefore Brown should be dealt with the same way as any other senator who had committed a minor crime.
Claitor said several bills will move forward in the regular session that erases that distinction and makes a second offense against anyone, regardless of relationship, a felony.
“Any fair minded person would understand that the standard is we don’t beat women on multiple occasions, Claitor said.
Edwards in his statement endorsed the concept. “Issues of domestic violence aren't to be taken lightly, and Sen. Brown's personal matters weren't reflective of Louisiana's efforts to eliminate instances of domestic abuse. Our elected leaders should be speaking with one voice against this issue,” he said.
“Troy Brown’s resignation marks the end of an embarrassing chapter,” said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Republican from Slidell who cosponsored the resolution to expel Brown. “Through our expulsion resolution, we demonstrated Louisiana’s support for victims of domestic violence and raised the standards of what we expect from our political leaders.”