Senate President Stanley Rosenberg on Friday asked for a State Ethics Commission investigation of Senator Brian A. Joyce, who is under scrutiny for allegedly using his public office to enhance his law practice.
Rosenberg made the decision after Joyce — an assistant majority leader — dropped his resistance to an Ethics Commission investigation and offered to temporarily step down from his leadership positions within the Senate.
“The Ethics Commission will have the full cooperation of the Senate in any investigation,” Rosenberg wrote to Joyce. “I look forward to a full and fair resolution.”
Joyce, whose questionable business practices were highlighted in the Globe on Sunday, did not respond to requests for comment, but said in a letter to Rosenberg that he is confident that a review will determine he “conducted himself appropriately,” a person who had seen the letter said.
“I regret any distraction to the Senate that the allegations contained in these media stories have caused,” Joyce wrote, “and know you will agree that conducting a fair process, which is guided by the law, is the best way to proceed.”
Joyce sent the letter just a day after Rosenberg, frustrated that the Milton Democrat would not take the initiative to ask for a Ethics Commission review himself, scheduled a special Democratic caucus and an informal Senate session Monday to decide whether to refer an official request to the agency.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause, said the fact that Rosenberg was making the request to the Ethics Commission will ensure that the agency will take it seriously.
“Putting that kind of weight behind it, it is clear the Commission will thoroughly investigate the matter,” Wilmot said. Common Cause had also asked the commission to review the matter.
The Globe story detailed Joyce’s apparent intermingling of his work as a lawyer and as a senator, showing how Joyce repeatedly contacted state regulators on behalf of an insurance company that his firm represents. In another example, Joyce filed legislation favored by a business group whose members included clients of his law firm and who later donated $9,000 to his campaign.
Joyce also spent campaign funds on seemingly personal expenses including nearly $3,400 for a graduation party for his son, the Globe reported. Joyce, who refused to answer questions except through his lawyer, insisted he always follows ethics and campaign finance laws.
He said the graduation party doubled as a campaign get-together, calling it a “friend-raising” event.
Initially, Rosenberg and his colleagues were split when they met Wednesday to discuss how to respond. Joyce, while a member of the leadership, was not included in the meeting.
But Joyce was facing strong headwinds among the general Democratic membership of the Senate, where he has served for two decades.
The Democratic caucus scheduled for Monday would have been a tough forum in which to make his case that his law practice never created a conflict of interest for him. Meanwhile, the small six-member Republican caucus in the 40-member Senate is expected to try to throw the issue to the Senate’s internal Ethics Committee.
Normally, the Ethics Commission’s enforcement division evaluates the potential conflict of interest issues that are brought to the agency and determines whether to open a full investigation, a move that needs approval from the Commission’s board.
The Massachusetts Republican Party also filed a complaint with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, asking it to look at the $3,400 that Joyce spent on the graduation party.
The state Ethics Commission and the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance declined to comment.
The Republicans kept up their tough rhetoric Friday, using Rosenberg’s message to the members of the Senate to demand the Senate president conduct his own probe as to why Joyce was able to conduct his law practice in the manner he did and whether his Senate colleagues were aware of what he was doing.
“Senator Joyce’s actions have created an ethical cloud around the senate Democrats,” said Kirsten Hughes, chairwoman of the Republican State Committee. “Senate President Rosenberg and his caucus owe the public an explanation as to why their colleague consistently violated ethics standards and campaign finance regulations, and whether any other senator knew about it.”
Senate Democrats, reached Friday after news of the referral broke , expressed relief, but none who were contacted wanted to talk for the record.
But one Democrat noted that Joyce would have faced some tough opposition if he did not relent in his resistance to a commission review.
“If he hadn’t done it before Monday, the body would have voted to refer the matter to our own ethics committee,” said the senator, adding that the committee could have acted more quickly on the matter.
“I think it recognizes the gravity of the situation,” the senator said of Rosenberg’s action. “I hope the ethics commission comes out with a quick resolution of this matter so we can determine what the next steps are and how we move forward.”