Convicted on felony bribery charges in late October, and now sentenced to a probationary sentence, State Representative Vanessa Lowery Brown has still not resigned from her seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Will Vanessa Lowery Brown ever resign?
One of six targets of a controversial bribery sting conducted by state authorities in 2010, Brown was convicted of multiple felony charges just six days before the 2018 midterm elections. Running unopposed, and with the news coming too late for her name to be removed from the ballot, voters in Pennsylvania’s 190th district had little choice but to return the disgraced Democrat to Harrisburg.
Since her reelection Brown has been vague about her plans to officially relinquish her position. Thanks to her bribery conviction she is prevented by the Pennsylvania Constitution from resuming her seat, but there is no technical mechanism to force her out until the legislature resumes its work in the new year.
Speaking on Philadelphia’s KYW radio, Pennsylvania constitutional law expert Bruce Ledewitz said Brown must eventually bow to the inevitable. “A conviction of a count of bribery is an automatic disqualification from any public office, but specifically from the General Assembly,” he said.
Despite the clear-cut wording of the law, Team Brown continues to operate as normal. As of Monday her staff were still working in her local district office, still answering the phones and identifying Brown as a state representative.
According to House chief clerk Dave Reddecliff, Brown has stopped receiving her $7,000 monthly salary, and she will soon lose her taxpayer paid pension and healthcare benefits.
Vanessa Lowery Brown: “We’ve got to celebrate”
While the conviction has destroyed much of her life, the fact that last week Brown was sentenced to 23 months probation instead of a custodial sentence is seen as a reason to celebrate by many of her supporters.
In a recent column, Philadelphia journalist Jenice Armstrong recounts the confused reaction she had when she was invited by text to an “appreciation” event by Brown to celebrate escaping jail time.
“I was scratching my head over it all when my cell rang,” Armstrong wrote. “It was Brown, who explained, ‘My friends said, “We’ve got to celebrate.” … It’s just going to be an all-night celebration.’
“I’m just very grateful I was able to get probation,” Brown continued. “I still have some things to work on. It’s not over yet. My legal team hasn’t given up on me, and they’re deciding what the next course of action would be for me.”
According to Armstrong, Brown has stopped referring to herself as a state representative, even though she continues to get phone calls from constituents asking for her help. She also says she has no plans to show up for the swearing in ceremony in Harrisburg on January 1st.
That may be for the best. Officials from the Republican House majority have said they will try to block Brown from taking her seat if she does try to claim it. Leaders from her own caucus have indicated they will not object if they do.
UPDATE – December 12th 2018
Vanessa Lowery Brown has resigned from her office “under protest.”
“The Court’s findings that the investigation and the prosecution carried overtones of racism and political animus is only the first step in the ultimate vindication of my God-given and constitutional right to be treated fairly and equally under the law…
“For the foregoing reasons, I do hereby immediately resign under protest as a duly elected Member and Member-elect of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.”
Brown’s appeal of her bribery conviction continues.