In a letter to the Senate president, ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown, says voting out the state senator without due process or procedures could set a dangerous precedent.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island is warning lawmakers not to “rush” to expel recently indicted state Sen. Nicholas Kettle.
Kettle was arrested Friday on charges of video voyeurism and two counts of extorting sex from a teenage Senate page. He was arraigned in Superior Court Monday and freed on personal recognizance.
The Rhode Island Constitution gives the state House and Senate the power to expel members with a two-thirds vote, and even though there are no records of either chamber doing so in modern times, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said Monday he would seek such an outcome if Kettle doesn’t resign.
But in a letter to Ruggerio, ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown warned that doing so without established due process or procedures could set a dangerous precedent.
“As serious as the criminal charges are, so too is the act of expelling a democratically elected legislator from the seat he earned from the voters of his district,” Brown wrote Tuesday. “To vote to expel a sitting Senator without any formal, carefully considered procedures establishes a dangerous practice. In the absence of clear due process standards, the Senate’s actions in this case will set a precedent that could be used for less principled purposes in the future.”
Although the charges against Coventry Republican Kettle brought instant condemnation from fellow lawmakers and calls from Ruggerio and Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere for the 27-year-old Kettle to resign, as of Tuesday afternoon there was no sign he will.
Last week, even with an a month-long investigation closing in on him, Kettle attended Senate sessions and said he had no intention of stepping down.
Kettle’s attorney, Paul DiMaio, said his client had not decided what to do when he last spoke with him, which was Tuesday morning.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Kettle had not contacted the Republican Senate caucus office about his future.
Meanwhile, Kettle’s indictment has raised questions about the House and Senate page programs, which give students from 15 years old to college age the chance to learn about the legislative process by running errands and distributing bills to lawmakers.
Ruggerio said on Monday that he had asked his chief legal counsel to “review” the page program. Previously he held private meetings with the pages advising them what to do if they are ever the target of inappropriate conduct.
The Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus on Tuesday called for a “full inquiry” of the page program and separate intern program “by a professional with expertise in sexual abuse and sexual harassment to be sure best practices are in place to protect our children.”
On Twitter: @PatrickAnderso_