Black Caucus, Shelby Democrats urge Senate Ethics Committee not to unseat Robinson
Sen. Katrina Robinson. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Concerned that the Senate Ethics Committee could recommend ousting Sen. Katrina Robinson for felony convictions, the Black Caucus and Shelby County Democratic Legislative Caucus are urging the panel to wait until her legal case is finished.
Both groups sent the committee letters Wednesday requesting it decide against removing Robinson, a Memphis Democrat, from the Senate since the courts haven’t made a final determination.
The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators sent a letter to the Ethics Committee stating it would be “extremely premature and could possibly violate Sen. Robinson’s constitutional rights as a sitting state senator along with her constituency.”
The committee is set to meet Thursday, possibly to consider a recommendation to unseat Robinson. If the Senate Ethics Committee finds probable cause to remove a member from the Senate for being convicted of a felony, an open hearing is to be conducted. Initial meetings, though, were private.
The full Senate would have to vote on a committee recommendation.
She was convicted on two counts of fraudulently spending about $3,500 of a federal grant to be used for her business, The HealthCare Institute in Memphis. Sentencing was to be conducted Thursday but was postponed until late March.
“A hasty decision made by this committee prior to the court’s final ruling will also have negative effects on the citizens of the 33rd Tennessee Senatorial District, Shelby County and Tennessee as a whole,” the Black Caucus letter says.
It contends the Memphis residents who voted for Robinson are “counting” on the committee to give her the same due process as the court and argues that committee members haven’t received enough information to make a decision.
Furthermore, the Black Caucus says the Legislature should give Robinson a “fair and unbiased opportunity” to make her case.
If she is removed, the Shelby County Commission would appoint a replacement until the November election is held.
The Shelby County Democratic Caucus is taking a similar stance, writing to the committee to express “concern” that it is set to consider unseating Robinson, who is still serving her first term. She defeated the late Reginald Tate three years ago.
“Any action taken by the Senate Ethics Committee prior to the court issuing a final ruling on this matter would be premature and could potentially deny Sen. Robinson her constitutional rights,” the letter says.
An “adverse and preemptive” decision also could hurt voters in the 33rd District, the caucus says.
“Just as Tennessee courts afford due process to every citizen of our state, Sen. Robinson deserves due process from her colleagues in the Tennessee Senate,” the caucus letter states. “With court proceedings still outstanding, please put aside the Senate Ethics Committee hearing for a later date if or when a sentencing is imposed upon (Robinson),” the letter says.
The judge who heard the case dismissed most of the charges filed by the federal government against Robinson but upheld two guilty verdicts by the jury and refused to grant her a new trial.
Robinson told the Tennessee Lookout last week she planned to remain in the Senate until the process is finished.
Members of the Senate Ethics Committee are the chairman, Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin, Sen. John Stevens of Huntingdon, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson of Franklin, Sen. Steve Southerland of Morristown, all Republicans, and Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis, the lone Democrat.
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