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Lawmakers Drop Protest Blocking Mass. House

Four dissident Massachusetts House lawmakers dropped their opposition Thursday and allowed the chamber to go back to its business.

The Democrats — Reps William Greene, Thomas Stanley, Lida Harkins and Matthew Patrick — had been blocking action on the House floor after learning the chamber had been billed $378,000 for legal services following the indictment of former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi.

The lawmakers had sought an outside audit of House of the charges.

House officials had said they could not release the details of the bills because it would jeopardize the case against DiMasi, who pleaded not guilty last June to charges he allegedly accepted $57,000 from a software firm, Cognos, in exchange for helping them win two state contracts.

"We want to get as much information out to the public as we can without jeopardizing the federal attorney's case," Rep. William Greene said.

The four have now sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose office is handling the DiMasi case, asking whether they can get more information on the purpose of the bills.

"Please be assured that it is not our intent to jeopardize either party's rights in this case," the letter stated. "We only seek to ensure that the taxpayers have received fair value for this large expenditure."

The lawmakers agreed that if the U.S. attorney's office says the ongoing investigation would be jeopardized, they would hold off on getting the information until the case is over.

"We're going to ask the U.S. attorney to give us an advisory as to whether or not that is in fact true," Rep. Lida Harkins explained. "And if it is true, we certainly don't want to impede an investigation and will back off."

House Speaker Robert DeLeo agreed on Tuesday that he would hire a lawyer to review the charges. But the four Democrats called for an auditor appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick, claiming anyone appointed by a House official would not be completely independent.

Rep. Matthew Patrick said he was convinced at a closed-door House caucus Wednesday afternoon that a review by a lawyer instead of an accountant would be sufficient because of the limitations imposed by the U.S. attorney's subpoena.

"I'd like to get more detail," Patrick explained, "but given the restrictions and the limitations under the U.S. attorney's subpoena, I think it was the best that they can do."

In a procedural move, House lawmakers Thursday agreed to move forward with an order to have the speaker disclose financial information about the House budget, which means the measure would get a hearing within the next 10 days.

The four Democrats agreed that accountability for the House finances is still an issue the members need to address, which is highlighted by the bills related to DiMasi's case.

"It begs the question: What else is the House spending its money on and also is it spending additional money on this case and when will it stop," Rep. Thomas Stanley said. "I think it's important for the public to know this and it shouldn't all be in the hands of one person."

Kevin McNicholas contributed to this report.

This program aired on December 17, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Kathleen McNerney Twitter Senior Editor, Edify
Kathleen McNerney is senior editor of Edify.

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