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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

 10:02 AM 

Wood attorney: Assembly doesn't have authority to oust lawmaker

Rep. Jeff Wood's attorney argued this morning the Legislature does not have the power to kick the independent lawmaker out of the Assembly for his three arrests, arguing a failure to adhere to any standard of moral behavior unrelated to his duties as a lawmkaer is not grounds for expulsion.

John Hyland reminded the committee reviewing a resolution seeking to expel Wood that he has not been convicted of any crimes yet and the people of his district have not taken any steps to recall him.

Wood, the Chippewa Falls independent who has reached a plea deal in one of the three cases, sat next to his attorney as he laid out the arguments against expelling him from office.

Rep. Steve Nass, who introduced the expulsion resolution, did not show up for today's hearing after submitting a written statement to the committee yesterday. Hyland and several committee members expressed their disappointment that the Whitewater Republican did not show up to answer their questions about the allegations he laid out in his resolution.

Matt Gaboda, an independent candidate for the Assembly from Evansville, was the only person to testify in favor of the expulsion resolution this morning. He acknowledged that Wood has not been convicted but noted that everyone has seen the video of his drunken driving arrests.

"He should have made the call himself instead of forcing the state to do what he should have already done," Gaboda said, suggesting Wood should have resigned after his arrests.

Hyland argued lawmakers only have the power to discipline members for being in contempt of Assembly rules or for disorderly behavior. He argued they cannot be disciplined for any of their actions outside of the Capitol, except for felony convictions, which require automatic expulsion under state law.

Hyland also took issue with Gaboda's argument, countering what people take away from the video tapes of the arrest are not what matters.

"People can form opinions, but the actions of this committee and the Legislature aren't based on opinions," Hyland said. "They're based on the constitution."

Wood's is the first expulsion proceeding in the Legislature since 1917, when Frank Raguse, a socialist from Milwaukee, took issue with another member's resolution to print President Wilson's message urging the declaration of war against Germany.

Raguse questioned if the member would "blow up another Maine" for patriotism, criticized President McKinley over the Spanish-American War, and questioned how "can a man have any patriotism when he has not got any land." He refused to withdraw or apologize for his comments, and the Senate voted 30-3 to expel and censure him for contempt, disorderly behavior and conduct unbecoming of a senator.

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