An Unwarranted Attack on the House and the Ethics Committee

In an oddly speaking complaint, Representative Charlie Rangel, represented by New York attorney Jay Goldberg, has filed suit in federal court against the Speaker, the Clerk and several former members and staff of the House Ethics Committee, including Zoe Lofgren, the former Democratic chair, and Jo Bonner, the former Republican ranking member. Cutting through the ample legal verbiage, Rangel’s complaint comes down to this: the court should set aside his December 2, 2010 censure by the House of Representatives because that discipline stemmed from a recommendation by the Ethics Committee that was tainted by “numerous flagrant, knowing and intentional violations of Plaintiff’s Due Process rights and his other fundamental constitutional rights.”

If a court could consider these claims, Rangel’s chances of prevailing on them would be extremely remote. They appear to be based entirely on internal memoranda written by Blake Chisam, then the staff director and chief counsel of the Ethics Committee, about alleged misconduct of two subordinate lawyers, Morgan Kim and Stacy Sovereign, who worked on both the Maxine Waters and Rangel cases. Rangel’s complaint attaches these memoranda (which we have discussed before) and describes them as “essential reading.” Complaint at ¶ 38.

The Ethics Committee previously retained Outside Counsel Billy Martin to investigate these precise allegations in the context of the Waters case. Martin conducted an extensive investigation, at substantial taxpayer expense, and reported to the Committee in September 2012 that there was no due process violation in the Waters matter. Although the report does not analyze the allegations with respect to the Rangel case, its reasoning strongly suggests the same result would obtain there.

Following the issuance of the Outside Counsel report, the Committee wrote to Rangel, rejecting his request to re-open his case. The letter begins by observing “[w]e have received and considered the numerous communications from your counsel, Mr. Jay Goldberg” (emphasis added).  It then states “it is the unanimous opinion of the Committee the there is no legal or factual basis supporting a conclusion that you have been deprived of any constitutional rights in your proceedings.” It emphasizes that this opinion was based on the analysis of its current non-partisan staff (which was not involved in the original Rangel matter) and was consistent with the analysis of Outside Counsel in the Waters case. It concludes with the suggestion that Rangel and his attorney not make “any further public comments” that are “misleading” or “inconsistent with the facts or law in this matter.” The Committee’s irritation with Rangel and Goldberg is barely disguised.

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