Former state lawmakers to represent Johnson in expulsion hearing

Towns sounds off about Democrats’ protests

By: - April 5, 2023 4:55 pm
Former state Rep. Mike Stewart, photographed a the Tennessee General Assembly in 2022, will represent Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville at her House expulsion hearing. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Former state Rep. Mike Stewart, photographed a the Tennessee General Assembly in 2022, will represent Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville at her House expulsion hearing. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Two former House members will be representing state Rep. Gloria Johnson in her Thursday expulsion hearing.

John Mark Windle, a former Democratic lawmaker from Livingston, is working as lead attorney on her case, and Mike Stewart, a former Nashville Democratic lawmaker, is expected to represent her as well, according to documents filed with the House Clerk’s Office.

Windle submitted plans to call as witnesses House Majority Leader William Lamberth, Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, House Minority Leader Karen Camper, Boe Parr, a Green Hills woman hauled out of the Capitol by troopers during last Thursday’s protest, and William Mendoza-Euceda, a student who attended the Capitol rally in favor of tighter gun laws.

The rallies stem from the late March mass shooting at The Covenant School in Green Hills where three children and three adults were gunned down by a former student.

Johnson, a Knoxville Democrat, is being targeted for expulsion along with Reps. Justin J. Pearson of Memphis and Justin Jones of Nashville for leading a protest on the House floor last Thursday in which the latter two used a megaphone to exhort the crowd in the balcony. It is unclear whether Pearson and Jones will have legal representation.

Johnson also found out Wednesday her state health insurance benefits could be in jeopardy. She said on Twitter she had a visit from the House ethics attorney who told her she would lose her coverage if expelled.

However, if she resigned, Johnson said she was told, she could retain her health benefits.

In addition to notifying the House Clerk’s Office about the witness list, Windle asked several questions, including a query about the instructions to be given to voting members regarding the law and presentation of facts, who would serve as prosecutor, who can call witnesses, whether the opportunity to object will be allowed, whether limitations will be put on counsel, whether the prosecutor will use an attorney, whether motions for discovery of evidence will be allowed, who will preside, which members will be allowed to speak, whether the public will be allowed to observe in the gallery, whether the proceedings will be broadcast, whether charges in the expulsion resolution covers the time before and after adjournment and whether motions for continuance will be considered.

Chief Clerk Tammy Letzler responded in a letter to Windle Wednesday afternoon that the proceedings would be streamed live on the Legislature’s website and broadcast on the House of Representatives’ Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Letzler pointed out the state Constitution allows the House to “punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.”

Johnson will be given an opportunity to address the House “as to her disorderly behavior as described” in an expulsion resolution, Letzler said.

“Comments must be germane to the resolution. Comments not germane to the resolution will be deemed out of order,” she wrote. “It would be up to the House upon proper motion to suspend the rules and allow you (as attorney) to address the House. If raised upon proper motion, other issues would be determined by the House.”

A massive turnout is expected for the morning House session and hearings. The calendar has 29 regular items, but the expulsions are expected to be taken up under other business.

The House Democratic Caucus said this week the trio has its backing.

But not every Democrat agrees with the way they disrupted House proceedings, mainly Rep. Joe Towns, a veteran Memphis lawmaker who chewed them out on the House floor last Thursday.

“I got wind of what they were getting ready to do to them: expel ’em,” Towns said Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Karen Camper was having trouble persuading Jones and Pearson to move off the House floor from the podium to a side room, and they didn’t want to listen, according to Towns.

The two were “excited, exuberant” but “not understanding the whole nine yards,” he said. “I just told them to bring their ass on. Let’s go over to this room over here so I can tell you what’s getting ready to happen.”

They might have wanted to talk to Camper and didn’t want to hear what Towns had to say.

“I said, ‘Dammit, I don’t want to hear that sh–, I’m talking now,’” said Towns, a senior member of the House. “Plus, you know I don’t play that sh–.”

Towns, nevertheless, said he doesn’t believe their protests should lead to expulsion. Maybe censure, removal from committees and other forms of punishment but not removal from as House members, he added.

Expulsion would not be permanent. In fact, the local governing bodies of Metro Nashville, Shelby County and Knox County could reappoint the three in a short time until special elections are held.

Towns, however, said he’s concerned about the possibility of losing more Democrats with the House number down to 24 already in the 99-member body.


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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.