Re: RI Supreme Court Undercuts Ethics Commission

Writes the RI Supreme Court majority in the case of William Irons and the Ethics Commission:

“We wish to stress in the strongest possible terms, however, that it in no way grants a legislator the right to transgress the Code of Ethics or any other law,” the majority wrote. Unprotected actions include political activities, efforts for constituents, assistance in securing government contracts, soliciting and taking bribes and criminal activities — “even those committed to further legislative activity.”

It’s good of them to break out those dusty ol’ “strongest possible terms,” but how exactly would that work? Here’s the full text from that part of the ruling (PDF; citations removed):

This Court has interpreted the speech in debate clause to provide legislators with “absolute” immunity from questioning “by any other branch of government for their acts in carrying out their legislative duties relating to the legislative process.” We wish to stress in the strongest possible terms, however, that it in no way grants a legislator the right to transgress the Code of Ethics or any other law. Legislators are held accountable for violations of the Code of Ethics, and they are not immune for actions which violate that code. The only exceptions are those in which the speech in debate clause of the constitution is implicated. The immunity afforded merely precludes the Ethics Commission from prosecuting within a narrow class of core legislative acts. Actions of legislators “in proposing, passing, or voting upon a particular piece of legislation” are core legislative acts that fall “clearly within the most basic elements of legislative privilege.” In short, “as long as [a legislator’s] challenged actions, stripped of all considerations of intent and motive, were legislative in character, the doctrine of absolute legislative immunity protects them from such claims.”
Activities that remain unprotected by this immunity include, but are not limited to: speeches delivered outside of the legislature; political activities of legislators; undertakings for constituents; assistance in securing government contracts; republication of defamatory material in press releases and newsletters; solicitation and acceptance of bribes; and criminal activities, even those committed to further legislative activity.

“Mr. Legislator, your testimony is that Mr. Money gave you $500,000 to assemble a $15 plastic toy wagon on Saturday, June 27. Didn’t that seem like a lot of money?”
“It’s generous, but I’m a lawyer, not a professional toy assembler, so I wasn’t sure what to charge.”
“Why then would the Moneys hire you for that job?”
“I don’t know. I guess they know I’m good at bringing pieces together.”
“The next day, Mr. Legislator, Mr. Money’s business partner, Mrs. Bucks, gave you a check for $200,000. What was that money for?”
“It was a gift.”
“You then introduced legislation effectively giving Bucks and Money a monopoly on processing government widgets in the state of Rhode Island — legislation that later passed with your vote — is that true?”
“Objection, your honor. The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled in William V. Irons v. The Rhode Island Ethics Commission et al. that a legislator cannot be questioned for his ‘core legislative acts,’ which is clearly what the prosecutor is doing.”
“Sustained. Mr. Prosecutor, do you have any further evidence that these financial transactions constituted bribery for activity not involving Mr. Legislator’s core duties as an elected representative?”
“No, your honor.”
“The witness may step down.”

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Monique
Editor
11 years ago

Excellent.
By the way, would “Bags” Martineau have been convicted under this ruling?

kathy
kathy
11 years ago

I guess since we have no ethics in this state, the commission should be dismantled. At this point free Martineau and Celona, it seems rather silly to keep them locked up, when the head snake is free.
How many of the judges who voted a beholden to the legislature?
Too bad The Brotherhood folded up their tent. They have so much for more shows. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving.

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