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Moot point? Supreme Judicial Court to consider Chuck Turner's ouster before he was sentenced for taking a bribe

The Supreme Judicial Court next week hears arguments from the lawyer for convicted felon Chuck Turner and the city of Boston on the way the city council ousted Turner after he was convicted in 2010 but before he was sentenced.

The court was asked its opinion on the legality of Turner's ouster under Massachusetts law by US District Court Mark Wolf, still considering Turner's suit to get his job back. Wolf rejected Turner's request to halt the special election won by Tito Jackson, but did not dismiss the case. Turner is now spending his days at a federal prison in West Virginia, on a three-year sentence.

The state's highest court hears arguments on Feb. 6. In his brief to the court, Turner's attorney, Chester Darling, argues neither state law nor the city charter gives the council the authority to oust a member convicted of a crime. The specific rule the council used to hold a hearing at which it booted Turner is an illegal ex post facto law because it was enacted after Turner was indicted (Turner voted for the measure), Darling argues, adding that by punishing Turner for his conviction, the council was infringing on the state's jurisdiction over criminal matters.

The city begs to differ, saying state law does let the council set conditions for serving and that Turner's removal was "remedial" because the council deemed him "unfit to hold an office of public trust" after his conviction, "rather than penalize him for his past acts."

The question is somewhat moot because state law does specifically requires the expulsion of any elected official once he is sentenced to prison. Turner was convicted on Oct. 29, 2010, expelled from the council on Dec. 1 and sentenced on Jan. 25, 2011.

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