Four legislators explain dodging Durham vote

Three northeast Tennessee state House members have explained to the Johnson City Press why they refused to vote one way or the other on the motion to expel Rep. Jeremy Durham during a special legislative session.

In the 70-2 vote to oust Durham, accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with 22 women, Reps. Micah Van Huss, Matthew Hill and Timothy Hill all refused to cast votes, along with nine other seated members.

“I do not believe that my constituents sent me to Nashville to be judge, jury and executioner on a person who has been denied their 6th Amendment rights,” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, said Friday.

He said Durham… should have been allowed to know the identity of the women accusing him of misconduct during the expulsion proceedings. The 6th Amendment guarantees the right of a citizen under criminal prosecution to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation and to be confronted with the witnesses against him.

Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, said he believed the House does hold the power to expel a member, a question some legislators doubted during hours of debate, but said proper procedure dictates a formal hearing under the chamber’s ethics code.

“With my choice to not vote, I felt like there was a process laid out in the rules,” he said. “If you’re not content with the process, it’s not appropriate to vote at all.”

Had he voted “no,” he said he was afraid the vote could have been misconstrued as condoning the behavior outlined in the report, which he said was “deplorable.”

…Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, likewise said he believed the process was unconstitutional and against the body’s permanent rules of order.

“We have a process under House rules and rights under the U.S. Constitution that I felt should be followed, they should be afforded to everyone,” he said. “They were not. The process was not what it needed to be.”

If the allegations in the report were true, Matthew Hill said, Durham “needed to be kicked out 100 percent,” but he said House members had no way of knowing whether they were true without a proper investigation and hearing.

In an emailed statement, Matthew Hill’s November General Election challenger, Democrat Nancy Fischman, accused him of trying to let Durham keep his pension without punishment for the alleged conduct.

“The Republican leadership finally took action to punish this accused serial sexual harasser and Hill chose to remain silent — essentially voting to let Durham off the hook,” Fischman wrote. “This is a slap in the face to the 22 victims who have been ignored and have suffered for over a year. I am outraged that Rep. Hill stood up for a man accused of such heinous actions.”

Rep. Shelia Butt, R-Columbia, also declined to cast a vote on Durham’s ouster. Here’s an excerpt from the Columbia Daily Herald report:

Butt, who sat next to Durham on the House floor, said she disagreed with the way Durham was ousted. She said no formal complaint was filed against Durham, and an ad-hoc committee of the House did not recommend expulsion.

“It would be very easy to join the fray demanding ‘oust the predator’ or ‘get rid of the pervert,’ and a part of me would really like to do that,” Butt said. “However, I have a deeply held principle that commands respect for the rule of law.

“Like in old western movies, the lone sheriff sitting on the front porch holding off the lynch mob may have known that the prisoner in his jail cell was guilty, but he still believed in the integrity of the process of a fair trial and the rule of law,” she added.