Category Archives: Ethics

Sunday column: On the legal validity of dumping Durham

Last week’s extraordinary session of the Tennessee Legislature had some ordinary aspects — predictable partisan and bipartisan bickering, for example — but the Jeremy Durham debacle was really something special.

After the 70-2 vote Tuesday to expel the Franklin Republican from his House seat, Durham made the rounds at Nashville television stations declaring that he’s likely to file a lawsuit, contending that his removal from office violated the state constitution.

This was somewhat anticipated during the House floor debate. Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, suggested that a lawsuit would cost taxpayers more than paying Durham’s pension, which he will lose as result of being booted prior to completion of his term in November. That, and concerns about constitutionality, were among the reasons cited by Holt in boldly pushing the blue light on House voting machines, which means he was present but not voting. Three others did the same, including one bold Democrat, Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Casada, Sargent deny Durham kiss and hug claims

Ousted Rep. Jeremy Durham tells WSMV=TV that two prominent Republican legislators have hugged or kissed women at the Legislative Plaza. He also declared that another lawmaker who voted to remove him from office has smoked marijuana at the state Capitol and several others have consumed alcohol at legislative offices.

Durham did not name the individual he alleged smoked marijuana, but he did identify others for different claims.

“Charles Sargent, that’s who I’m talking about,” Durham said. “I’ve watched him kiss women on the mouth in Legislative Plaza. But I can’t even, like, send a remotely flirtatious text message.”

In July, the Attorney General released a report that accuses Durham of sexually harassing 22 women at the Legislature. The investigation also alleged Durham had sex with a college student in his office after providing her alcohol.

Durham denies he had sex or even made sexual contact with the women interviewed in the report.

Instead, he’s raising questions about his former colleagues.
“You know, the Glen Casada, the Charles Sargent, like let’s all hang out and hug on women,” Durham said. “That’s the ones that are in power.”

So is any of this actually true?

On Thursday Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, denied kissing women on the mouth at the legislature, only acknowledging the occasional hug or peck on the cheek if he knows the person.

“I don’t know where this young man is coming from,” Sargent said in a phone interview. “I feel sorry for him. We have a young man whose life is falling apart.”

Rep. Glen Casada, R-Thompson’s Station, echoed those statements.
“I understand he’s hurting and he’s angry. I wish the best for him,” Casada said in a phone interview.

He added: “I hug women at church. I hug women at the Capitol. I hug men. I think hugging is proper, if done correctly,” Casada said.

But Durham didn’t stop there. He named lawmakers who he said regularly drink in their office.

Those men did not return calls from Channel 4. But even Durham admits, he too drank on state property.

“I have drank in my office before,” Durham said. “I did keep alcohol in my refrigerator, I did.”

When asked if she would look into these claims, Speaker Beth Harwell stated, “Jeremy has again called 22 victims liars, and he has no credibility. Beyond that, I have no additional comment.”

Durham eyes lawsuit against the state over ouster

A day after his expulsion from the Tennessee Legislature, former state Rep. Jeremy Durham is telling Nashville television stations that plans a lawsuit against the state over the ouster.

Durham told News 2 (WKRN) Wednesday he is likely to file suit against the State of Tennessee out of principle. He couldn’t elaborate on how much he’s seeking in damages… While Durham has admitted to being too flirtatious at times, he insists he never harassed or was inappropriate with anyone during his time in office.

“A lot of the allegations though, if you look at what they’re saying, most of it is like ‘He asked me to get a beer.’ That’s most of the allegations,” said Durham. “If getting a beer is all it takes, then we need to expel a lot of the General Assembly, not just me.”

Durham claims the attorney general’s findings – that he had sex with a woman in his Capitol Hill office – are “completely untrue.”

And he also says his expulsion from the legislature during the special-called session was unconstitutional.

“I think everyone in there who voted realized that they voted on rules, those rules weren’t followed,” Durham told News 2. “I was entitled to a hearing and I didn’t get it. And Speaker Harwell still gets to gavel me out.” Continue reading

Harwell cleared of ethics complaints

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The House Ethics Committee has dismissed three complaints filed against House Speaker Beth Harwell for her handling of a sexual harassment investigation into former Rep. Jeremy Durham.

Republican state Rep. Rick Womick, who opposed Durham’s ouster a day earlier, had filed five complaints against Harwell. He withdrew two of them on Wednesday, and the ethics panel later dismissed the remaining three.

Womick’s remaining complaints alleged that it was an ethical violation for Harwell to effectively quarantine Durham from other lawmakers and staff beginning in April; to create a committee to consider allegations against him; and to order the state attorney to investigate.

Democrats on the panel said they also question Harwell’s handling of sexual harassment allegations, but said Womick’s complaints didn’t contain enough evidence to proceed.

Notes and quotes from Durham ouster debate

Some notes and quotes from debate on the ouster of Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, on Wednesday:

–“It is the Lord who appoints people to office, and it is He who takes them out… The Lord has already decided.” Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet, sponsor of the resolution to expel Durham, during a House Republican Caucus meeting.

–“Let’s go up there and flush this commode.” Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester, also during the Republican Caucus meeting. Continue reading

Womick files ethics complaints against Harwell

State Rep. Rick Womick has filed five separate ethics complaints against House Speaker Beth Harwell related to her handling of the investigation into Rep. Jeremy Durham, reports Nashville Post Politics.

Womick’s first complaint alleges Harwell began an investigation into Durham based solely on media reports, in the absence of a formal complaint from anyone. The second ethics complaint says Harwell’s decision to move Durham from his Legislative Plaza office and limit his access to the Capitol was in direction violation of the state constitution because “only by a vote of the full House can a member of the Tennessee General Assembly be punished.”

The third complaint says Harwell’s creation of the Ad Hoc Select Committee, which authorized the attorney general’s investigation into Durham, was appointed unconstitutionally. But Womick’s fourth complaint alleges that Harwell illegally asked the AG’s office to start an investigation before the Ad Hoc Select Committee existed. The final complaint questions the constitutionality of the expulsion process as Harwell has directed it through the special session.

Rep. Steve McDaniel, the chair of the House Ethics Committee, said he hadn’t had time to read the complaints yet, but legal counsel was reviewing them.

“If [the complaints are procedurally] found to be compliant according to rules, we will have a meeting of the Ethics Committee in the next day or two and decide if they rise to the level of action,” McDaniel said.

Durham expelled from House with 70-2 vote

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The vote to expel a sitting Tennessee lawmaker for the first time in 36 years was overwhelming, even though House members had argued vehemently about whether a series of sexual harassment allegations were enough to boot one of their own.

The state House voted 70-2 on Tuesday to remove Rep. Jeremy Durham. He surprised his colleagues by showing up in the chamber and contending that he shouldn’t be ousted. Then he abruptly left in mid-debate.

(Note: The two no votes came from Reps. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville, and Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster. Four lawmakers blue lighted the resolution (present not voting): Reps. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro; Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson; Andy Holt, R-Dresden; and Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis.

Twelve legislators who attended Wednesday’s session did not vote at all, including Durham (who had left the chamber when the vote was taken). Others declining to vote were Reps. Shelia Butt, R-Columbia, Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis; Tilman Goins, R-Morristown; Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough; Timothy Hill, R-Blountville; Mary Littleton, R-Dickson; John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge; Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station; Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna; Micah Van Huss, R-Gray; and Rick Womick, R-Rockvale.

Ten members were absent: Reps. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville; Dale Carr, R-Sevierville; John DeBerry, D-Memphis; Jud Matheny, R-Tullahoma; Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City; Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville; Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg; Brian Terry, R-Murfreesboro; Curry Todd, R-Collierville; and Mark White, R-Memphis.)
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AP story on squabbles over ditching Durham

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A special legislative session to fix a costly drunken driving law kicked off Monday with a squabble about how or whether Tennessee lawmakers should go about trying to expel one of their own.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam hastily called the special session because Tennessee stands to lose $60 million in federal road money because of a new state law that increased the maximum allowable blood alcohol content for drivers below the drinking age.

While quickly fixing that to bring it back into line with federal zero-tolerance standards appears to be headed for easy approval, an unrelated ouster effort against a lawmaker who was the subject of an extensive sexual harassment investigation led to heated exchanges on the House floor.

The probe detailed allegations that Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin had improper sexual contact with at least 22 women over the course of his four years in office. Continue reading

Durham blasts ‘Jane Does,’ House leaders

State Rep. Jeremy Durham sent an eight-page letter to House colleagues Monday that defends himself, attacks the women who accused him of sexual misconduct and blasts House leadership for handling the investigation, reports The Tennessean.

Durham threatens in the letter to release a document that would name the 22 women who accused him of inappropriate sexual conduct and show text messages that he says could prove his innocence.

(Note: Text of the letter is HERE, as posted by Nashville Post Politics.)

The women spoke to the attorney general on the condition of anonymity, afraid there could be negative personal and professional ramifications if they were identified.

Durham, 32, faces an ouster vote this week as lawmakers meet in Nashville for a special legislative session.

“This type of unbridled authority is dangerous,” he said while discussing the “dangerous precedent” it sets for expelling a member based on an attorney general’s report.

“Due to the way this situation has been handled, my family finds itself in the position of wanting to largely clear my name by releasing names and text messages of many Jane Does while also wanting to not make the situation a bigger circus than it has already become,” Durham writes in the letter.

“I’ve prepared a document responding to each and every Jane Doe — with names — and with text messages stored on a cloud. But that process should be handled according to House rules — not in a public expulsion proceeding.”

…Durham says “zero of the 22 Jane Does remotely fit any definition of sexual harassment.” He argues that sending a text that says “what’s up” or “offering a simple verbal compliment can hardly be considered inappropriate conduct.”
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