The House Ethics Committee dismisses an ethics complaint filed against State Rep. Gerald Brady (D-Northwest Wilmington)
The complaint against Brady, filed in August by State Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton (D-D-Christina), questioned an email Brady sent using his state email that used anti-Asian slurs and joked about sex workers being trafficked in shipping containers.
In dismissing the complaint, the Ethics Committee called Brady's language "reprehensible," unanimously determined no laws were violated, and that Brady’s remarks are protected under the First Amendment.
"While it is manifestly the business of this Committee to ensure the decorum of House proceedings and to punish unlawful and unethical conduct that reflects upon the integrity of the House, there is no precedent for policing the lawful expression of opinions or a member’s choice of words in what he believed to be correspondence with a private citizen," the report read. "Determining which ideas and manners of expression are beyond the pale is first and foremost the province of voters. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects freedom of speech and it would run contrary to those principles to punish “the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
The committee’s report included legal analysis research on precedent, noting reprimands and punitive measures taken against elected officials are extremely rare and almost universally are for breaking the law, sexual misconduct, or misusing the elected office for personal gain.
The analysis highlighted the one Delaware precedent involving former State Rep. John Atkins’ DUI and domestic violence arrests which were investigated by the House Ethics Committee in 2007.
"Rep. Atkins clearly differs in kind and severity from the allegation brought against Rep. Brady. Rep. Atkins behavior involved breaking the laws of both Delaware and Maryland, and then attempting to use the prestige of his legislative office to escape the consequences of his unlawful actions," according to the analysis done by the House Majority and Minority counsels.
Atkins resigned before lawmakers voted on taking action against him.
House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear), who chairs the Ethics Committee, says Brady’s racist, sexist comments “should never be tolerated,” but even “despicable language like this, is still protected under the Constitution.”
Brady, who is not seeking re-election, released a statement saying Monday’s result does not mean his words weren’t wrong.
“I have spent the past several weeks contacting colleagues, constituents, community members and members of the Asian American community to offer my apologies and to open a dialogue with them. I have participated in a sensitivity training course as prescribed, and I have remained in contact with the instructor to incorporate the lessons I have learned going forward," said Brady in his statement. “My goal throughout this process has been not to simply call a person once, offer my apologies and move on; it’s to open a dialogue about how to sincerely and constructively address this issue I caused and to turn this horribly negative situation into a learning experience for others and to bring the concerns of the Asian American community forward. Despite the committee’s decision and my plans to not seek re-election, I intend to continue those efforts.
The five-person House Ethics Committee consists of Longhust, House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, Longhurst, House Minority Leader Danny Short, and State Reps. Larry Mitchell and Tim Dukes. Under its rules, it met behind closed doors Friday to consider the complaint, which drew complaints from open government advocates.