By Mark Ballard and David Mitchell | The Advocate
Embattled state Sen. Troy Brown apologized for abusing his wife but said in a prepared statement Friday that he would fight any effort to expel him from the Louisiana Senate.
Rather than calm the situation, Brown’s statement prompted some senators to call for his immediate resignation and intensified deliberations among members over how to discipline one of their own for the first time in 35 years.
One of his colleagues, Baton Rouge Sen. Yvonne Dorsey Colomb, said Friday she was preparing legislation to suspend Brown from the upper chamber, largely as an alternative to the behind-the-scenes movement to kick him out of the 39-member body. She believes Brown is repentant and deserving of a second chance.
A second-term Assumption Parish Democrat, Brown had not publicly commented since Wednesday when he entered his second “no contest” plea to a criminal charge alleging he committed violence against a woman.
“The Legislature has only once expelled a senator, and that was after committing a federal felony, not a state misdemeanor. I can only echo my anger management therapist: take a few deep breaths and try to come up with a more constructive reaction to help women, like voting for equal pay,” Brown said his statement.
“I am realistic, of course, and if the body decides on expulsion, I will respect their wishes, but I will utilize all legal options available to me to protect my constituents’ rights to be represented,” Brown said. “Not one of the 121,000 citizens I represent has called for me to resign, while I am grateful that hundreds say this will pass and they are praying for me.”
His spokesman, Patrick Wallace, said Brown pleaded no contest, which means he doesn’t dispute allegations that he bit his wife during a struggle over a cell phone last July, because the wife, Toni Baker Brown, said in an affidavit that she wouldn’t testify against him. “Had he contested, she would have had to be cross examined and he simply did not want to put her through that ugly process,” Wallace said in an email.
Brown’s wife signed an affidavit on Nov. 18 saying the accusations “were not completely accurate” and that she wanted to drop the charge against her husband. Toni Brown also stated if forced to testify, she would invoke her 5th Amendment right against self incrimination.
Toni Brown declined the opportunity to comment and her attorney did not return calls.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of cases that we have to prosecute with uncooperative victims,” Tyler Cavalier, spokesman for 23rd Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin, said Friday.
The evidence in this case included Toni Brown’s 911 call, her original statement to responding deputies, and photographs of her injury, Cavalier said, adding that Brown was treated just like any other person.
Brown’s attorneys began making moves to accept the plea Wednesday after ad hoc Judge Frank Foil sequestered Toni Brown and others as trial witnesses.
Foil fined Brown $300, gave him to 30 days in jail — but suspended all but 48 hours — and ordered him to do 64 hours of community service and participate in a domestic violence program. Brown also got three months of probation and was assessed other costs.
Brown previously had pleaded no contest in a separate incident in which he was accused of punching his girlfriend in the eye hours after the 2015 Bayou Classic football game in New Orleans in 2015.
“Domestic misdemeanors like mine are most commonly dismissed at the victim’s request,” Brown said in his statement Friday. “Months ago, my wife filed an affidavit forgiving me, recanting some of her statements to law enforcement, and asking for a dismissal. Recently, she also begged the court to allow me to come home so we can try to repair and resume our marriage. Because of the press attention, however, my case was treated differently. I’m okay with that, but people should bear that in mind.”
He sought forgiveness from his wife, constituents, the governor and his Senate colleagues.
But several of his Senate colleagues were not so inclined.
“After I read his statement today, he needs to resign, immediately,” said state Sen. JP Morrell, D-New Orleans, who had previously called on Brown to consider leaving the Senate.
“There’s nothing in that statement that says he believes, he truly believes what he did was wrong, that what he did was heinous. It was just trying to elicit sympathy,” said Morrell, a former public defender.
“It’s sadly reminiscent of my prosecution days,” said Republican Baton Rouge Sen. Dan Claitor, who once was an assistant district attorney in New Orleans. He recalled cases where the battered woman would ask him to dismiss the charges against her husband, but six months later be victimized by domestic violence again.
Claitor also said Brown should resign.
Claitor, who chairs the Senate committee that considers criminal justice issues, is talking with other senators about the appropriate course of action.
The tenor of those talks prompted Sen. Colomb to ask Senate staff to draft a resolution setting Brown’s punishment at suspension instead of expulsion. “I feel the body wants to do something, but what they’re talking about doing, I think, is too harsh,” she said.
Only one Louisiana senator has been expelled and that was in 1981. At the time, Baton Rouge Sen. Gaston Gerald was in federal prison after being convicted of a felony for attempting to extort $25,000 from a contractor.
As one of the few, if not only, victim of domestic violence in the Legislature, Colomb said she has a different perspective. In her talks with Brown, she said he has been sorry for his actions and sought treatment. He has been punished by the court his misdemeanor violation.
Though she cannot condone what he did to his wife, Colomb said she could forgive him, particularly in light of his efforts to receive help.
“I believe in redemption. I believe in second chances,” said Colomb, who was beaten up during a previous marriage and helped establish a battered women’s program in Baton Rouge.