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Lynn seeks to suspend Newton
Jul 14, 2005 12:00 am
July 12, 2005
State Rep. Susan Lynn is expected to file a resolution this week to suspend indicted lawmaker Chris Newton from the House without pay while a federal corruption case against him is pending.
Lynn's resolution would serve as an alternative to a resolution filed earlier in the month by Rep. Chris Clem, R-Chattanooga, that would have expelled Newton.
Newton is the lone Republican caught up in the federal Tennessee Waltz corruption probe of the General Assembly and is accused of accepting bribes to carry legislation.
Lynn, who said earlier she would sign on to the Clem bill, said her bill seeks a middle ground to keep Newton from voting while the federal criminal justice system works and his case proceeds.
Lynn noted the House would likely not be privey to any of the federal government's proof against Newton outside what is alleged in indictments, making the bill to expel Newton difficult to pass without evidence.
Lynn said using the expulsion bill as the only remedy may not keep Newton from voting when the General Assembly reconvenes, possibly as early as this fall for a special session on ethics reform.
"Rep. Newton has been indicted but not convicted," Lynn said Monday. "Having a House member indicted for such a serious offense and continuing to vote on legislation that may affect the very people that will decide his case is just not acceptable. But, to expel someone who has the presumption of innocence can seem harsh to some."
"I believe in this procedure more than the Clem procedure," Lynn added. "It accomplishes what the people expect but also maintains the presumption of innocence. It is more fair and accurate."
Lynn resolution would suspend Newton without pay, a move Lynn noted is often used by law enforcement and other government entities when a public servant is accused of wrongdoing.
The resolution also asks the Bradley County Commission to appoint a temporary stand-in for Newton while his criminal case is being adjudicated.
Clem said he was not opposed to Lynn's new resolution, but said in the "real world" accusations like those leveled against Newton often result in dismissal from a job before the legal system finishes its work.
Clem also questioned whether the move was legal, saying a section of the Tennessee Constitution the Lynn resolution is based on allowing the House to "punish" a member is a "gray area."
"I think it is a great option if we can do it," Clem said Monday afternoon. "I kind of wish we did have that authority."
Clem also referred to a lack of specific evidence released by the federal government regarding the accusations against Newton. Clem echoed comments Lynn made last week, saying if the federal government released video evidence of Newton's alleged activities like it did former State Sen. John Ford the decision would be easy.
"If we could see similar video on Chris Newton, I think expulsion would be the clear decision. But we have not seen the video," Clem said.
Other rank and file House members who said they would support the Clem measure are also supporting Lynn's resolution.
"If the majority of the House doesn't want to expel him, maybe a compromise is a suspension," Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) said Monday evening. " … We have to gain the trust back of the people of Tennessee."
Managing Editor Clint Brewer can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 13 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.