Reporter's Notebook: Crime bill compromise near, says Rep. Holmes

Lawmakers are close to a compromise on a controversial anti-crime bill, also known as the "three strikes" bill, according to state Rep. Russell Holmes.

The Mattapan Democrat, a member of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary, said the compromise is “basically done” and predicted that the House and Senate would pass a compromise before lawmakers adjourn formal sessions for the rest of the year on July 31.

But Holmes also said he expected the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus to vote against the compromise. House members of the caucus, including Holmes, opposed the House version of the bill when it passed last fall, saying it disproportionately affected minorities and would lead to increased overcrowding in prisons. Supporters said the bill cracks down on habitual offenders and violent crime.

The legislation has drawn heated rhetoric from both sides as a six-member conference committee with House and Senate members has worked to hash out a compromise.

Holmes said the potential compromise could include some 30 crimes that would lead to a maximum sentence without parole for three-time offenders, and for drug-related crimes, shrinking a school zone from 1,000 feet to 300 feet. Such a compromise would be closer to the Senate version, which passed unanimously in the Upper Chamber.

A compromise would also need the signature of Gov. Deval Patrick, who has repeatedly stated he wants a balanced anti-crime bill “targeting the most dangerous and damaging for the strictest sentences, and better preparing the non-dangerous for eventual release and reintegration.”

Court delivers rare win for Turner
The Supreme Judicial Court last Friday offered up a belated birthday gift to former City Councillor Chuck Turner, who is in a West Virginia penitentiary, ruling that when his City Council colleagues voted 11-1 to oust him – after his conviction but before his sentencing – they did so with no authority. District 4 Councillor Charles Yancey was the lone vote against Turner’s ouster.

“His removal by the city council meant that the voters of the council district that he represented lost the councillor that they had voted into office,” the court wrote in its opinion. “In a sense, the council’s action served as a disavowal or restriction of their voting rights.”

Councillors, led by the City Council president at the time, Michael Ross, pressed for Turner’s removal, repeatedly citing the legal opinion of the city’s corporation counsel office, which argued that the 13-member council had the authority to oust one of its own.

District 7 voters chose Tito Jackson, a former aide to Gov. Deval Patrick, to succeed Turner in a subsequent election, after councillors voted to vacate the seat.

The court noted that the council could have imposed sanctions on Turner, as it did in 2008, when Turner was arrested and charged with bribery. Then-President Maureen Feeney removed Turner as the chairman of two committees. The court also noted that councillors could have censured Turner and added restrictions to his “participation in the official work of the council as a body.”

Turner, who turned 72 on June 10, was convicted of attempted extortion in 2010 and sentenced in January 2011. While serving his three-year sentence, he has been writing rants about his imprisonment and having them posted on a blog.

State law calls for an official to be removed from an elected position once sentenced, meaning Turner’s victory is a partial one and he could receive $11,000 in back pay. “However, we believe that at the very least I am entitled to the income that I would have received between my removal and the sentencing as well as fees for my attorney’s services,” Turner wrote on his blog. “I will keep you informed as the process moves forward.”

Turner’s contention that he was illegally removed was first raised in federal court, which asked the state Supreme Judicial Court to decide its legality. Mark Wolf, a federal judge, rejected Turner’s separate attempt to stop the District 7 election in 2011.

Turner, who maintains that he is not guilty of the charges, is also seeking to overturn his conviction.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop. Material from State House News Service was used in this report. Email us at newseditor@dotnews.com and follow us on Twitter: @LitDrop and @gintautasd.