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House Ethics Committee dismisses complaint against Brady

Charlie Megginson Government, Headlines

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Rep. Gerald Brady

 

The House Ethics Committee has voted unanimously to dismiss the ethics complaint filed against Rep. Gerald Brady, D-Wilmington. 

No further punitive action can be taken by that body against Brady. 

Brady was discovered in July to have sent an email to an out-of-state advocate in which he referred to women of Asian descent using a racial slur while discussing human sex trafficking. It set off a furor.

On Monday after the Ethics Committee announcement, Brady said in a statement that he has spent weeks contacting colleagues, constituents, community members and members of the Asian American community to offer his apologies and open a dialogue.

Brady also said that he has completed the sensitivity training course as prescribed by House Democratic leadership.

“My goal throughout this process has been not to simply call a person once, offer my apologies and move on,” Brady said. “It’s to open a dialogue about how to sincerely and constructively address this issue I caused and to turn this horribly negative situation into a learning experience for others and to bring the concerns of the Asian American community forward.”

House Republicans declined to comment on the dismissal of the ethics complaint.

Jane Brady, chairwoman of the Delaware State Republican Party, which has already called for Rep. Brady to resign, said, “Rep. Brady is certainly entitled to say whatever he thinks, and his conduct may not rise to the level of illegal behavior, but it was certainly inappropriate and offensive and warrants his resignation.”

Efforts were unsuccessful to immediately reach Chinese American organizations for comment.

The ethics complaint, filed by Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, D-Newark, alleged that his actions violated Rule 16(a)(12) of the chamber’s rules of legislative conduct, which are outlined in House Resolution 3

That rule says “A member shall not engage in conduct which the House determines (i) brings the House into disrepute or (ii) reflects adversely on the member’s fitness to hold legislative office.”

The committee “unanimously determined that no laws were violated, and that Rep. Brady’s remarks are protected under the First Amendment, which guarantees the right of free speech,” according to a press release from Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Delaware City, who chairs the Ethics Committee.

“Rep. Brady’s remarks were racist, sexist and should never be tolerated,” Longhurst said. “That’s why House Leadership immediately condemned them and instructed him to take several steps to address the damage his words caused.” 

She said the Ethics Committee had to separate moral outrage from their duty to follow the law.

“We must acknowledge a very bedrock principle of our country: unpopular speech, even despicable language like this, is still protected under the Constitution,” Longhurst said. 

Whether Brady should continue to serve in the House of Representatives is a decision that belongs to his constituents, she said. 

Brady has already announced that he will not seek re-election in 2022.

“I cannot in good conscience ask the voters to put their faith in me again after I betrayed theirs,” Brady said in July. “I can only humbly and unequivocally apologize again for my actions, for which I am solely responsible.”

In her complaint to the Ethics Committee, Wilson-Anton said Brady’s apology and decision not to run again were not enough.    

“Each of us, as members of the House of Representatives, is responsible for holding other members accountable to the rules we unanimously voted to approve this January,” Wilson-Anton said in the complaint. “I do not believe it is sufficient to absolve Rep. Brady’s statements by requiring he attend ‘sensitivity training,’ nor is it fair to place a burden on the Delaware Asian-American community to engage him in an attempt to educate him.”

Wilson-Anton said if Delawareans cannot trust members of the General Assembly to hold their own accountable, the public could not trust them to govern in their best interest either. 

Following the Ethics Committee’s announcement, Brady reiterated his apology in a written statement.

“While the Ethics Committee concluded that this situation didn’t constitute a violation, it does not mean that my words weren’t wrong,” Brady said. “Free speech is crucial to democracy, but so is the duty to use it wisely, and to take responsibility when you do not.”

In his statement, Brady also denounced a letter sent on Sept. 9 to a General Assembly staff attorney by his former legal counsel, Thomas Neuberger.

In the letter, Neuberger said out of state organizations seeking to make prostitution legal in Delaware were trying to “cancel” Brady, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, since he opposes their efforts to make prostitution and sex for money legal.

Neuberger said the “anonymous actors” have joined with others in the state to “cancel” Brady’s service as a legislator and executive director of the Delaware AFL-CIO.

Brady apologized for the letter and said Neuberger no longer represents him.

“After reading the letter, I was sickened by the attempt to deflect or paint me as the victim of some sort [of] coordinated effort,” Brady said. “It demeans people who very rightly were hurt by the racist and sexist slurs I used, and it diminishes the seriousness of the situation. I am deeply sorry for this letter and the accusations it made.” 

The Ethics Committee’s report included research for precedent in Delaware, the U.S. House of Representatives and other states.

“Reprimands and punitive measures taken against elected officials are extremely rare, and have been almost universally for breaking the law, sexual misconduct, or misusing the elected office for personal gain,” the press release said. “None of those cases involved an elected official’s speech in private communications.”

Some government watchdog groups expressed outrage that the ethics committee investigation was kept from the public. 

Legislative members and their staffs were barred from discussing the committee’s proceedings publicly or even acknowledging that Brady was at the center of an investigation.

Under Delaware’s FOIA law, the House Ethics Committee and Senate Rules and Ethics Committee are exempt from the public disclosure requirements of other public bodies and legislative committees.

Longhurst acknowledged those concerns in the press release but said the committee strictly observed the rules unanimously passed by the House of Representatives in January. 

“While I understand that some are frustrated by the perceived secrecy of the Ethics Committee process, I want to stress that we closely followed the rules that all House members approved earlier this year, which have existed for decades,” Longhurst said. “These rules ensure that complaints are given their due consideration and that a full accounting of the committee’s actions are made public.” 

The Ethics Committee is comprised of the leaders of the House Democratic and Republican caucuses. There are three Democratic and two Republican legislators on the committee.

Their report will be formally delivered to the House when the chamber is next in session. 

 

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