Dec. 31, 2004 Sen. Ronald Russell on Thursday inquired whether Sen. Usie Richards was eligible to serve in the 26th Legislature based on findings released by a Senate Ethical Conduct Committee that he sexually harassed two female Legislature staff members.
In letters sent to John Abramson Jr., supervisor of Elections Yvonne Tharpes, Legislature legal counsel, and Richard's attorney Jeffery Moorhead, Russell questioned whether Richards was able to serve based on provisions in the Revised Organic Act.
"If the Legislature in its ethics committee found that he committed sexual harassment, then I believe that is a violation of the Revised Organic Act," Russell said Friday.
The committee, which was formed to investigate the employees' claims, announced its findings in December. They said Richards had committed the acts and recommended a letter of reprimand. Richards is now suing the committee and Senate President David Jones for violation of his due process rights and the validity of the reprimand. (See "Richards Files Lawsuit Against His Colleagues")
Russell said his query has nothing to do with Richards' suit, but rather whether a finding of sexual harassment by the 25th Legislature makes Richards ineligible to serve in the 26th.
According to the Revised Organic Act, a person who has been convicted of "a crime involving moral turpitude" is ineligible for serving in the Legislature, Russell quotes from the Organic Act.
In his letter Russell states, "Moral turpitude as defined by an online law dictionary is gross violation of standards of moral conduct, vileness."
Russell also quoted another section of the Organic Act that gives the Legislature the authority to be "sole judge of the elections and qualifications of its members."
The committee's findings should be brought to either a court of law or the attorney general to determine whether the findings can be considered as a violation of the "moral turpitude" clause, Russell said. "This needs to be explored."
Russell said Moorhead was the only one who has responded to his letter thus far. In his response, Moorhead asked Russell to provide him a copy of a resolution from the Senate, if there is any, showing that the full Senate body has accepted the committee's findings as valid. Russell has not heard back from Tharpes or Abramson, but said he would respond to Moorhead's query.
"The issue raised should be addressed immediately," Russell said, adding it should be dealt with before the swearing in of the 26th Legislature on Jan. 10.
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