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State Senate discusses possible Brian Joyce ethics inquiry

State Senator Brian A. Joyce of Milton Joyce has resisted his colleagues’ pressure to step aside from his leadership posts.
State Senator Brian A. Joyce of Milton Joyce has resisted his colleagues’ pressure to step aside from his leadership posts.(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File 2014)

With potential conflicts of interest dogging assistant majority leader Brian Joyce, the Senate leadership is weighing how to prompt a review by the State Ethics Commission — whether to take the case to the agency itself or pressure the senator to seek the inquiry.

According to Senate sources knowledgeable of the internal discussions, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and his leadership team were split when they met Wednesday to discuss how to respond to a Boston Sunday Globe story that outlined the ways Joyce has used his public position to advance his private law practice.

Joyce, the veteran Milton Democrat who has resisted his colleagues’ pressure to seek the review and step aside from his leadership posts, was not included in the meeting, the sources said.

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Faced with that resistance, Rosenberg late Thursday called a Democratic caucus and an informal session of the Senate for Monday. The notification does not outline what the caucus or session is about. But a knowledgeable source said it is part of a strategy to resolve how the Senate handles the issues swirling around Joyce.

The Globe story outlined multiple examples of Joyce blurring the lines between his public duties and private business. It described his aggressively seeking legal work from communities that rely on the Legislature for funding and the fact that he rarely discloses clients to the Ethics Commission, which is required if a lawmaker sees potential for conflicts of interest in his votes.

Those with knowledge of the ongoing internal discussions say Joyce’s colleagues hope he will take the initiative before Monday to ask the commission to review the issues and temporarily step aside as assistant majority leader and chairman of the Senate’s influential Committee on Bills in Third Reading.

If he does not take those steps in the new few days, Rosenberg and his top aides could make the move themselves at the caucus and the informal Senate session.

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Joyce could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

Rosenberg aides declined to comment on the details.

“We are going through a process and reviewing our options,” said Rosenberg’s chief of staff Natasha Perez.

The issue, however, is already on the Ethics Commission’s radar. The Massachusetts Republican Party has filed a formal complaint asking it to investigate Joyce’s potential conflicts.

“Senator Joyce’s brazen disregard for state ethics laws, combined with the shadiness with which he had handled these questions, raise serious concerns about his ability to serve the public in an honest way,’’ said GOP chairman Kirsten Hughes. “This is just another example of unaccountable, one-party rule in the Legislature, and voters deserve better.”

Additionally, a source with knowledge of the agency’s interest in the matter confirmed that its enforcement division is reviewing the issues outlined in the Globe article.

If the division feels there is enough evidence for a more comprehensive review, it would recommend to the full commission board that a formal investigation be opened.

An Ethics Commission spokesman said the agency would not comment.

“Due to strict confidentiality restrictions imposed on the commission by statute, I can neither confirm nor deny whether the commission has received any complaints or is conducting any investigation,’’ said commission spokesman David Giannotti.

The state GOP also filed a complaint with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, asking it to look into Joyce’s spending $3,400 on his son’s graduation party, claiming it was part of his reelection effort.

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Michael Sullivan, the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, said the agency does not comment when asked about complaints filed with the office.


Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.