STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 6, 2014…. The House voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to expel Rep. Carlos Henriquez, removing him from office after his January conviction for assault and battery despite his in-person declaration of innocence and calls from a handful of members for a lesser punishment.
The vote marked the first time in 98 years that the House has voted to expel a sitting member, a fact that Rep. Garrett Bradley (D-Hingham) pointed out was due, in part, to most lawmakers accused and convicted of wrongdoing resigning before any discipline is necessary from the Legislature.
The House voted 146-5 in favor of expelling Henriquez after the Ethics Committee on Tuesday night recommended his removal from office after a lengthy investigation into his trial records and interviews with Henriquez. Reps. Russell Holmes, Gloria Fox, Benjamin Swan, Carl Sciortino and Denise Provost voted against expulsion.
Rep. David Nangle, the vice-chair of the Ethics Committee, made the case that Henriquez had violated a portion of the House code of ethics that states members should “make every reasonable effort to avoid transactions, activities, or obligations, which are in substantial conflict with or will substantially impair their independence of judgment.”
“He has failed to act prudently, and furthermore his recent criminal conviction indicates an impairment of judgment that is detrimental to the adequate representation of his constituency,” he said.
Henriquez, a 37-year-old Dorchester Democrat, is serving six months in the Billerica House of Correction, and he is appealing his January conviction on two counts of misdemeanor assault and battery against a former girlfriend.
Henriquez appeared before the House in his own defense, taking his seat near the back of the chamber as the proceedings began next to Bradley, a former prosecutor who was just appointed to the Ethics Committee in Janaury and helped make the case for his expulsion.
After hearing the arguments against him, Henriquez approached the podium wearing a dark suit and tie, relieved of the handcuffs that the Middlesex County Sheriff’s office has used while transporting him to and from the State House over the past several weeks during the investigation.
“My reputation has been attacked and severely damaged, my livelihood and freedom taken, my character forever called into question,” he said. “The truth is I never touched my accuser in any way, at any point in time, that would result in harm or injury.”
Rep. Russell Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat and friend of Henriquez’s, offered an amendment that was defeated with only 10 votes of support that would have reduced the punishment to a formal censure. Though he professed his trust in the judicial system, Holmes said there remains an element of distrust in the neighborhoods represented by himself and Henriquez.
Holmes questioned whether the Ethics Committee might have stretched the House rules, which he said appear to address financial conflicts, to fit Henriquez’s case and pointed out that voters in Henriquez’s district re-elected him knowing the assault and battery charges were pending. He said lawmakers should not supersede the voters.
“The censure piece was suggested simply because I believe, we should not as members of the House, remove folks unless there is something really outlying within our rules. And that wasn’t outlined in the rules that this is something we should do,” Holmes said. “I believe we should though however, make a rule next year that says if you are in jail you should not serve. So I agree with the perspective that he should not be paid; he should not be in jail and be considered a representative. I just don’t think it’s on us to remove him.”
Holmes said he expects Henriquez to run again for the seat he was forced to leave. “If he runs again I do believe he can win the seat,” Holmes said.
Only 10 members voted in favor of censure, including Holmes, Swan, Fox, Provost, Rushing, Sciortino, Mary Keefe, John Rogers, Angelo Scaccia, and Elizabeth Malia. Rogers and Scaccia did not vote on expulsion after supporting censure.
Henriquez said his only solace now is his love of public service and his innocence, accusing the Ethics Committee of “careless or intentional ambiguity” in its questioning and finding. “I’m not sure if I’m more displeased by the process or the result. Anyways, when the train is bearing down on you, it doesn’t matter if the light is red or green,” he said.
Henriquez acknowledged the concerns he and his attorney have raised about being convicted by an all-white jury, but made clear that he did not think the racial makeup of the jury in his trial necessarily precluded fair judgment.
Addressing the numerous calls for his resignation, which would have avoided the dramatic vote in the House on Thursday. “An innocent man does not plea and an innocent man does not quit,” he said.
Bradley made a case not to wait to take action while Henriquez’s appeal is pending, which he said could take at least nine months, and said he disagreed with some interpretations by members, including Rep. Provost, of Somerville, that the House rule did not apply to Henriquez.
“The courts have been clear that we alone are the deciders over whether our rules have been violated,” Bradley said. Not only can Henriquez not serve his constituents by voting, attending hearings or participating in the community, Bradley said Henriquez no longer has “credibility” on issues like court funding, criminal justice or domestic violence.
A spokesman for House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the Democratic leader did plan to call for a special election to fill the now vacant 5th Suffolk District seat, though a date for that election is still to be determined.
Holmes raised the specter of Henriquez running in the special election for his old seat should he be paroled as soon as April 15. Rep. Angelo Scaccia, of Readville, questioned whether Henriquez could be sworn in this session after the same House voted to expel him, and Bradley said the House alone can determine whether to seat Henriquez if he were to win.
“Clearly if this individual runs and gets re-elected that is a very important statement from his district. But that is a decision for down the road, but the authority does rest with the Legislature,” he added.
DeLeo did not take questions after the vote, but issued a statement expressing an eagerness to move forward from the issue that has dominated headlines and discussions in the building.
“The committee conducted an independent investigation, reviewing 11 police reports, 78 exhibits and nearly 1000 pages of trial testimony, and found that a representative could not serve as a member while incarcerated in jail after being convicted of two charges of a serious nature. With that vote completed, the House will now move forward to address the budget, gun safety, domestic violence and other important legislative matters,” DeLeo said.
Sciortino said he voted against expulsion because he doesn’t believe the House has the authority.
“I voted to censure Rep. Henriquez, which I believe is the strongest punishment we have the Constitutional authority to impose on another sitting member of the House. I don’t see in our Constitution us having the authority to permanently expel a member from this House who has already been elected, voted, qualified and seated in this chamber,” Sciortino said.
Though House rules do allow for expulsion of a member, Sciortino pointed to an 1855 Supreme Judicial Court ruling that he said discusses expulsion in cases where a member posed a threat to the chamber for reasons of contagion or insanity.
Sciortino said he would have voted to impeach Henriquez, which is contained in the Constitution and would have required proceedings before the Senate.
A number of House members described the vote as one of the most difficult they’ve had to take.
Nangle, thrust into the spotlight after becoming the ranking member of the Ethics Committee after Boston Mayor Marty Walsh resigned for City Hall, said lawmakers must be held “to the highest level of scrutiny.”
“Sometimes as legislators we must act with heavy hearts but we must still act in the best interest of the constituents of the Commonwealth,” he said.
Nangle described himself as “mortified” when he saw the photographs of the victim’s bruising. “I had a sick feeling in my stomach,” the Lowell Democrat said.
Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, an Attleboro Republican, addressed Henriquez’s previous accusations that the Ethics Committee was biased against him because of Poirier’s immediate calls for his resignation following his conviction. Poirier said her statements about resignation were separate from the question of whether he violated House rules.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones defended the process, saying that the House did not rush to judgment after the accusations were first raised against Henriquez in 2012 and called Holmes’s argument “not strong enough.”
Veteran Rep. Christopher Fallon, a Malden Democrat, said the debate featured some of the most intelligent and eloquent arguments he had heard during his tenure in the House. Raising his voice, he said the House had “no choice” but to expel Henriquez.
“This body is legally, legislatively and morally responsible to show to this Commonwealth that we that make the laws will not allow anything above a zero tolerance when it comes to abuse against women,” Fallon said.
Before voting against his expulsion, Provost said she was “chagrined” that Henriquez didn’t resign, but believed the House lacked a clear rule to justify his expulsion, taking particular issue with the rule cited by the Ethics Committee that questioned his “independent judgment.”
“If anything, as best I can tell, his judgment is a little too independent,” Provost said.
Before the debate, Gov. Deval Patrick, who had called on Henriquez to resign, said he had not changed his mind despite questions being raised by the NAACP and others about the use of the House rules.
“I’m in the same place and I’m sadly in the same place. This is a rep I know a little bit, but who has struck me as having great potential who has been convicted of a very, very terrible crime. I don’t think that is a record that ought to be reflected by a sitting member of the House,” Patrick said.
Copyright 2014 State House News Service