Should convicted former House speaker get his pension back?

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Posted: Dec 05, 2016 12:34 AM
Should convicted former House speaker get his pension back?

BOSTON (AP) — Thomas Finneran was once the most powerful politician in Massachusetts, ruling the state House of Representatives with an authoritarian style that earned him the nickname "King Tom" from some critics.

Finneran's fall from grace began in 2003 when he lied about his role in a legislative redistricting plan that was later thrown out because it diluted the voting power of minorities. Thirteen years later, the state's highest court is set to decide whether the Democrat's criminal conduct should mean the loss of his $34,000-per-year state pension.

The question before the Supreme Judicial Court is whether Finneran's criminal conduct had a direct link to the performance of his official duties of his job. The court will hear arguments in the case Thursday.

The state Board of Retirement revoked Finneran's government pension in 2012 after finding that his conduct was directly related to his public duties. But last year, a judge ordered his pension reinstated after concluding Finneran was not acting in a public capacity when he gave false testimony in a lawsuit challenging the redistricting plan.

Finneran, a Boston Democrat who served as House speaker from 1996 to 2004, pleaded guilty to a charge of obstruction of justice in 2007 for lying about his involvement in the redistricting plan.

In his testimony in federal court, Finneran said he had no role in drafting a new map of legislative districts beyond appointing members of a redistricting committee. Opponents of the plan said the new map of Massachusetts House districts discriminated against blacks and other minority voters in Boston while protecting Finneran and other incumbents. Finneran later admitted he misrepresented his role, but said it was because he was offended by claims of racial bias.

The retirement board said it was "irrefutable" that Finneran was acting in his official capacity when he gave false testimony. But his lawyer, Nicholas Poser, said the judge who overturned that decision was correct when he found there was no evidence that Finneran either used his office to commit the crime or was performing any official duties when he testified.

"It's inarguable that Tom Finneran was not presiding over the House when he testified before the federal court. The House wasn't in session that day; he had the day off," Poser said.

"He was not performing any duty that is conceivably within the scope of his duties," he said.

But state Attorney General Maura Healey's office, representing the retirement board, argues there was a strong connection between Finneran's criminal conduct and his office.

"Speaker Finneran deliberately obstructed a judicial inquiry into the legality and constitutionality of redistricting legislation, passed under his leadership as Speaker and affecting his own House district," Assistant Attorney General David Marks argued to the Supreme Judicial Court in a legal brief.