BOSTON For the first time in almost a century, members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives expelled one of their own Thursday, casting out Rep. Carlos Henriquez following his conviction in a domestic violence case.
The expulsion, approved by a 146-5 vote after less than two hours of debate, took effect immediately.
Before the vote, Henriquez told the hushed chamber he was innocent of charges he assaulted a former girlfriend and rejected calls that he resign.
“You may have thought, or think, that this could have been avoided if I resigned, but with all due respect, it is my strong belief that an innocent man does not plea, an innocent man does not quit,” the Boston Democrat said.
Henriquez, who was brought to the Statehouse by sheriff’s deputies, also questioned the fairness of his trial and six-month sentence.
“My reputation has been attacked and severely damaged, my livelihood and freedom taken, my character forever called into question,” he added. “The truth is I never touched my accuser in any way, at any point in time, that would result in harm or injury.”
Henriquez wore a dark suit and wasn’t handcuffed during a six-minute speech. He left the chamber immediately after speaking and was not allowed to vote.
Members of the House Ethics Committee, which recommended expulsion in a report filed earlier this week, said lawmakers need to be held to high standards. They also noted that Henriquez is unable to cast votes while incarcerated and can’t fully serve his constituents.
“As public officials and figures and especially as elected officials we are held to the highest level of scrutiny, as we should be,” said committee acting Chairman Rep. David Nangle.
A number of lawmakers who spoke in favor of expelling Henriquez said his conviction and decision not to resign left them with no other option.
“We are doing what we have to do because we have no choice,” said Rep. Theodore Speliotis, D-Danvers.
Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, R-North Attleborough, said as a woman she was aware of the impact domestic violence can have on not only a victim but family members.
“We must hold to the great tradition of this House of Representatives and not allow one of our own members convicted of such a crime to sit in a seat of such authority and assume to provide leadership for others to follow,” said Poirier, who called the vote the most difficult one she has taken in her eight terms in the House.
Lawmakers rejected, on a 143-10 vote, an amendment filed by Boston Democrat Russell Holmes that called for Henriquez to be censured rather than expelled.
“I think censure is better simply because of the fact that we don’t remove a member of the House who was elected by the folks in his district,” Holmes told reporters after the vote. He also said a decision by House leaders that would have allowed expulsion by a simple majority vote set a dangerous precedent.
State Reps. Gloria Fox of Boston, Denise Provost of Somerville, Benjamin Swan of Springfield and Carl Sciortino, of Medford, all Democrats, joined Holmes in voting against expulsion.
Sciortino said he would have supported an impeachment vote but did not believe the House had the right to expel a member permanently.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo planned to call a special election to fill the remainder of Henriquez’s term, which runs through January. There did not appear to be any law preventing Henriquez from being a candidate in a special election, though it was not immediately known if he planned to do so.
Asked if the House would seat Henriquez if he were to run and win the election, Nangle said it would be “a question for another day.”
The ethics committee, in its report, found Henriquez violated a key House ethics rule and shouldn’t be allowed to keep his seat.
Henriquez faulted the report for what he called “careless or intentional ambiguity, the blending of accusation and facts.”
Henriquez’s attorney, Stephanie Soriano-Mills, said the rule as written is meant to apply to questionable financial transactions, not the current case. But the panel said in the report that the circumstances warrant the harsh punishment.
The last time a member of the House was expelled was in 1916, when Rep. Harry Foster was dismissed after an investigation found he “collected money from people interested in legislation now pending,” according to House records.
Henriquez has suggested that the all-white makeup of the Cambridge District Court jury raised questions about the fairness of his trial. Henriquez was convicted Jan. 15 of two assault charges and acquitted of three other charges stemming from his 2012 arrest.
The New England NAACP had asked the House not to vote to expel Henriquez, citing his ongoing appeal. The organization also said it did not believe House rules allowed for a member to be expelled due to misdemeanor convictions.