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What happens if he's convicted?



Published: Sun, May 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The federal indictment of U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. will have no impact on his standing in Congress for now.

But if he is found guilty of any or all of the 10 felony counts he faces, that's another story.

The House's code of official conduct says the body defers taking any action if one of its own is indicted.

"This is not to say the committee abandons concern in statutory matters. Rather, it feels it normally should not undertake duplicative investigations pending judicial resolution of such cases," the code reads.

"Members remain members through indictment," said U.S. Rep. Bob Ney of St. Clairsville, R-18th, and chairman of the House Administration Committee. "It has no bearing on their ability to vote. They don't take a temporary leave of absence. If a member is found guilty, then it's a different situation."

If a congressman is found guilty, the matter is turned over to the House Standards and Ethics Committee for a censure hearing, Ney said.

Amendment: An amendment passed April 16, 1975, by the House forbids congressmen who have been found guilty of a crime for which the sentence could be two or more years from voting in the House until judicial or executive proceedings reinstate the member's presumption of innocence or until he is re-elected to the House after his conviction.

Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, could face about 40 years in prison if found guilty of all 10 charges.

In most of the previous 23 occasions when a congressman has been indicted, they resigned. Traficant, a nine-term congressman, has not addressed this particular issue but says he is ready for a court fight.

Hours before the indictment but knowing it was going to be handed up at any moment, Traficant said he was "as frightened as anyone would be in my position." The congressman planned a press conference Monday to discuss the indictment.

If a congressman does not resign after being convicted of a felony, the House Standards and Ethics Committee investigates the matter and makes a recommendation to the full House, which can choose to take disciplinary action up to and including dismissal, according to House code.

When a congressman is a convicted felon, House code says his presumption of innocence is gone, and Congress can remove a member even if there are outstanding appeals.

Special election: The seat is then vacated until the governor of the congressman's state schedules a special election. The election would be a free-for-all with any qualified candidate being able to have his or her name on the ballot.

Among possible candidates if Traficant's seat becomes vacant are: state Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd; Republican Paul Alberty of Poland; Randy Walter, a Canfield real estate developer; Trumbull County Commissioner Michael O'Brien of Warren; former Youngstown Mayor Patrick Ungaro, and Youngstown Mayor George M. McKelvey.

Capri Cafaro had plans to run for the House seat next year.

She is a daughter of J.J. Cafaro, who plans to plead guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to bribe Traficant.

Traficant defeated Hagan and Mahoning County Auditor George Tablack in last year's Democratic primary and beat Alberty and Walter, who ran as an independent, in last year's general election.

The timing of a Traficant departure from Congress would dictate when the election would be held.

If he were to leave within a few months of a primary or general election, the congressional election could be held then, said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State, which oversees the state's elections.

"It is up to the discretion of the governor after he receives the secretary of state's recommendation on a date," LoParo said.

There are no legal requirements as to when the governor must call the election, he said.

Two cases: The last Ohio congressman to leave office was Willis D. Gradison Jr. of Cincinnati, a Republican who resigned his 2nd District seat to take a lobbying job in January 1993.

The governor called a special May election, the same day as the regular primary that year, and Rob Portman, a Republican from Cincinnati, won. He still holds the seat.

In 1990, Donald E. "Buz" Luken of Middletown resigned his 8th District seat about a month before the general election that year to avoid a House Ethics investigation into charges of improper sexual advances toward a female federal employee.

The governor ordered a special election for the same date as the scheduled general election in November 1990. John A. Boehner, a West Chester Republican, won that election and still holds the congressional seat.




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