Turner vindicated by SJC ruling

To many of the constituents he once represented, vindication came as a sweet balm late last week when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that convicted former Boston City Councillor Chuck Turner was illegally booted from the city’s legislative body after being found guilty of federal corruption charges.

Many of his supporters felt that the council unfairly pushed the Roxbury pol out of his elected post, violating their rights to representation and the councillor’s right to stay in office until he was sentenced to serve time. Voters in his district also felt that Turner was ostracized because he is African-American. The Boston City Council is majority white.

On Friday, the SJC ruled that the Boston City Council acted illegally, concluding the body ignored the city’s charter rules.  Turner’s lawyer, Chester Darling was quoted in the Boston Herald saying that Turner had been the victim of a “lynching.”

In a radio interview Wednesday on a black-oriented talk show on 106.1 FM, Darling reflected on Councillor Turner as a “hardworking public servant” who didn’t deserve the treatment he received. He added that the council wrongfully deprived the “voters in District 7 of their voice” and vowed to address the issue of disenfranchisement in federal court.

The ruling will not affect the conviction or sentence. Turner will remain in jail for another three years for accepting a $1,000 bribe in a federal anti-corruption case that also led to prison time for former Senator Dianne Wilkerson. In both cases the minority community in Boston questioned whether institutional racism within the judicial system played a role in their convictions.

Melvin B. Miller, the publisher of the Bay State Banner—which focuses on African-American readers—called the treatment of Turner and Wilkerson uneven, especially when compared to the arrest of former Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi, whom the feds treated with softer gloves.

In an editorial in the Banner, Miller wrote that actions committed by “DiMasi are far more destructive of the public welfare than the petty allegations against Turner and Wilkerson. Yet the treatment of DiMasi was civil, while the treatment of Turner and Wilkerson was hostile. The Justice Department is supposed to set the national standard for prosecutorial equality.”

The vote to oust Turner was 11-1, with City Councillor Charles Yancey arguing that the expulsion was illegal. At the time, Yancey urged the city council’s lawyer to “be very, very careful” in determining Turner’s fate.  Yancey added: “Democracy is a very precious thing.” At-large City Council members Ayanna Pressley and Felix Arroyo voted against their fellow minority councilor.

Mayor Thomas Menino went along ith the council’s move, stating that it was important that the council retain its “integrity.”

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Even Gov. Deval Patrick weighed in, saying that “there is a very strong feeling among people in his district that he is responsive to them, but he is convicted of a very serious crime and, I think, there are a lot of consequences that ought to come from that — and this is one.”

From the start, Turner called the charges against him politically and racially motivated.  He alleged his conviction was part of a government inspired “set-up” against black elected officials called COINTELPRO, further adding that former US Attorney General John Ashcroft was specifically involved in targeting him. “The conviction was rotten,” Turner said from the floor of the council on the day of his expulsion.