Monday, January 30, 2012

The Sport of Chester Darling

Technical writers and middle-school English teachers are not the only anal-retentive nitpickers. Lawyers can worry a detail to shreds.

Come 9 AM, Monday, February 9th, Courtroom One, John Adams Courthouse, Boston, the wrinkled old dog with the sock in his teeth will be Chester Darling...yet again. Out of retirement, apparently for the sheer fun and ego thrill of it, he's making another unbidden curtain call.

In case you got on with your life, snap to. It's only been 13 months since Chuck Turner, (insert disgraced, heroic, or other laden adjective) ex-Boston City Councilor headed off to Hazelwood Penitentiary in West Virginia. He and Darling have been churning out the appeals.

The short of it is that after legal fights for two years, he was convicted of three charges from an FBI sting. It was basically soliciting a bribe and lying about it. You can get your fill by searching this blog for coverage.

Certainly Darling and Turner elicit the mandatory observation that they differ politically. They are also each cantankerous enough to roll around in joy at the dichotomy. Turner as extreme lefty champion of the poor, people of color and LGBT is a stark contrast to Darling's extreme righty supporter of anti-gay causes, notably taking the appeal to the SCOTUS that upheld the power of South Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade to exclude gay marchers. Also, Darling fought race-based school admissions.

At least publicly, Darling liked to portray this strangest snuggling of bedfellows as reasonable. He told the Globe, "Politically, I’m a little right, and he’s a little left...But that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to the value of a person...I didn’t hesitate to agree to represent him, because I know the guy’s character and value."

The values remaining in the legal aspect of this case seem to be that Turner is sure the City Council humiliated him (and cost his salary and benefits for the period) by enforcing its rule 40A. That conduct stipulation forced him from office between his conviction and sentencing.

Darling's contention is that the commonwealth statute that tosses an elected pol upon sentencing is all we need to worry our pretty little heads about. In contrast, 40A holds that "the council president may refer a matter to the council upon his/her determination that any member has engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the Boston City Council or may be unqualified to sit on the body. A member may be unqualified by violating federal or state law, or any conditions imposed by the city’s charter, which includes violating any provisions of the three oaths of office."

This automatically triggers a meeting on the matter. The Council can oust the member by a two-thirds vote. The rule notes that any action "will be in accordance with local, state and federal law."

There's enough nit to pick for Darling.

You can download the PDF files of the appeal, the city's response, and the response to the response on the SJC page for this appeal. (Scroll down to Briefs.)

Not so fast!

He contends for Turner that the commonwealth's tripwire for ouster requires the Council to wait for sentencing. That's moot and may be the gist of the appeal. For its part, the city claims that its actions were legal, that "The Massachusetts Home Rule Amendment further authorized the removal of Turner as municipal action enjoys a presumption of validity in enforcing local rules which are consistent with the laws of the Commonwealth." (p. 49, Appellee's Boston Brief) In other words, he was convicted in federal court and had no place under 40A on Council.

Then Council President Michael Ross was not in a comfortable spot. Turner was hugely popular in his district, but most Bostonians seemed sick of real and perceived corruption from City Hall through the Statehouse. Turner and State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, the first two convicted in strings are both black, and the prosecution was thus smelly.

Here, I often have objected to the Home Rule process. That in effect means municipalities cannot rule at home. With lowered heads and shuffling feet, they approach legislators for the right to make their own rules. Anything big requires an elaborate rechartering as well. Here is another case where a city council gets the disobedient-child treatment. Darling is smart enough to play off this.

I'll trot down to Pemberton Square for this hearing. It may well be a regurgitation of the conclusion sections of the plaintiff and defendants' briefs. Darling presents with a bluster befitting a cartoon character. He looks like one too. Scanning the expressions of the Justices should likewise make for decent theater.


No comments: