Massachusetts House of Representatives votes to expel jailed member
BOSTON (AP) -- The Massachusetts House of Representatives on Thursday expelled state Rep. Carlos Henriquez, who is serving a six-month jail sentence after being convicted of assaulting a former girlfriend.
The expulsion, approved by a 146-5 vote after less than two hours of debate, took effect immediately. It was the first time in nearly a century that House lawmakers expelled one of their own.
Before the vote, Henriquez told the chamber he was innocent of the charges and rejected calls for him to resign.
"You may have thought, or think, that this could have been avoided if I resigned, but with all due respect, it is my strong belief that an innocent man does not plea, an innocent man does not quit," he said.
Henriquez, who was brought to the Statehouse by sheriff's deputies, also questioned the fairness of his trial and sentence.
"My reputation has been attacked and severely damaged, my livelihood and freedom taken, my character forever called into question," he added. "The truth is I never touched my accuser in any way, at any point in time, that would result in harm or injury."
Henriquez wore a dark suit and wasn't handcuffed during a six-minute speech. He left the chamber immediately after speaking and was not allowed to vote.
Members of the House Ethics Committee said lawmakers need to be held to high standards. They also noted that Henriquez is unable to cast votes while incarcerated and can't fully serve his constituents.
"As public officials and figures and especially as an elected officials we are held to the highest level of scrutiny, as we should be," said committee acting Chairman Rep. David Nangle.
A number of lawmakers who spoke in favor of expelling Henriquez said his conviction and decision not to resign left them with no other option.
"We are doing what we have to do because we have no choice," said Theodore Speliotis, D-Danvers.
Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, a Republican from North Attleborough, said as a woman she was aware of the impact domestic violence can have on not only a victim but family members.
"We must hold to the great tradition of this House of Representatives and not allow one of our own members convicted of such a crime to sit in a seat of such authority and assume to provide leadership for others to follow," said Poirier, who called the vote the most difficult one she has taken in her eight terms in the House.
Lawmakers also rejected an amendment that would have censured Henriquez instead of expelling him.
After weeks of secretive deliberations, the Ethics committee filed a report Tuesday night that found Henriquez violated a key House ethics rule and shouldn't be allowed to keep his seat.
Henriquez faulted the report for what he called "careless or intentional ambiguity, the blending of accusation and facts."
Henriquez's attorney, Stephanie Soriano-Mills, said the rule as written is meant to apply to questionable financial transactions, not the current case. But the panel said in the report that the circumstances warrant the harsh punishment.
The panel also said a request by Henriquez that he be granted a six-month leave of absence while serving his sentence was incompatible with House rules or the state constitution.
The last time a member of the House was expelled was in 1916, when Rep. Harry Foster was dismissed after an investigation found he "collected money from people interested in legislation now pending," according to House records.
Henriquez has suggested that the all-white makeup of the Cambridge District Court jury raised questions about the fairness of his trial. Henriquez was convicted of two assault charges and acquitted of three other charges.
The New England NAACP, in a statement Thursday morning, asked the House not to vote to expel Henriquez, citing his ongoing appeal. The organization also said it did not believe House rules allowed for a member to be expelled due to misdemeanor convictions.
"Delaying any decision on the House Ethics Committee's recommendation at this time would allow for a fair process to take place, as required under the law," the NAACP said.
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