Beacon Hill leaders distanced themselves from state Senator Brian A. Joyce Thursday, a day after an FBI raid on his law office, but stopped short of calling for the Milton Democrat’s resignation.
With questions swirling about what, precisely, federal agents are investigating, lawmakers were left in the awkward position of declaring general concern about Joyce’s conduct while maintaining his right to due process.
“I’m very concerned about [the raid] and I’m also concerned about how it reflects on the Senate,” said state Senator James B. Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, adding that Joyce should consider whether he’s going “to be effective” for his constituents before launching a reelection campaign this fall.
Still, Eldridge said, the legal process must be allowed to unfold.
Joyce has been the subject of a series of Globe articles detailing ways he allegedly used his position as a senator to benefit himself and his law practice.
One story included allegations that he charged his campaign account for his son’s high school graduation party, another that he received free dry cleaning for more than a decade from a small business in his district. A third story suggested Joyce had inappropriately approached state regulators on behalf of a private client.
Joyce gave up his positions as assistant majority leader and chairman of an influential Senate committee in May, several days after the story concerning aid to the private client.
Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg invoked Joyce’s stripped titles in an interview with the Globe Thursday, arguing that the Senate hadn’t “dilly-dallied” and had “moved appropriately and with reasonable speed.” But he said it would be inappropriate to go further without all the facts.
“I don’t rush to judgment, especially in a situation like this,” he said. “An individual’s reputation, integrity is on the line. It affects himself, his family, his constituency, his career.”
The Senate president added that “as a matter of humanity,” you couldn’t help but feel for Joyce during this difficult period.
Rosenberg said he consulted with about 10 of the Senate’s 40 members and found broad support for his approach. And senators who spoke with the Globe generally backed the Senate president’s stance.
But they said they were embarrassed by the raid.
“I think we all have a lot more to find out about this case, but certainly it makes us all look bad,” said Senator William N. Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat who cochairs the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.
Several added that Joyce is not a popular member of the body and that his colleagues aren’t necessarily inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Democrats inside and outside of the chamber also voiced concern that Republicans could use the Joyce matter to tar lawmakers in tight legislative races this fall.
The GOP has consistently pitched Republicans as the antidote to a Democratic establishment corrupted by its long grip on the Legislature.
The state GOP issued a statement shortly after the raid Wednesday saying, “Joyce’s remarkable disrespect for the law is a byproduct of the Democratic culture of corruption on Beacon Hill, where abuse of power appears to be a fringe benefit.”
Paul D. Craney, executive director of the right-leaning Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which has sent out mailers that have influenced legislative races in the past, said Thursday that his organization may make Joyce a campaign issue this fall when every lawmaker is up for reelection.
“Anything we can do to compel the Legislature to act in the right way, we’re going to push and prod,” said Craney, who hand-delivered a letter to Rosenberg Thursday calling on the Senate to expel Joyce.
Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, has been more circumspect, voicing concern but declining to call for Joyce’s resignation.
“I think this investigation should be allowed to take its course and I think, in the end, you know, the voters of the district are the ones who should and could and may end up making the call with respect to what happens to Senator Joyce,” he said Thursday, during his monthly appearance on WGBH-FM radio.
Joyce’s Senate office was locked Thursday and an employee of the Senate, rather than the senator, was answering phone calls from constituents and directing reporters to a public relations outfit, the Goodwin Group. The firm did not offer comment.
But Joyce’s lawyer, Howard Cooper, issued a statement noting there are no charges filed against his client. “The media frenzy of the past two days,” he said, “threatens to create an atmosphere contrary to the presumption of innocence.”
This is not the first time the FBI has trained its sights on a sitting senator.
When Dianne Wilkerson was arrested on bribery charges in October 2008, the media splashed details of a 32-page FBI affidavit on the front page: the senator tucking 10 $100 bills into her bra at a posh Beacon Hill restaurant, another $10,000 pressed into a leather day planner at a take-out restaurant in her district, and a two-day gambling spree.
Within two days, the state Senate had called for Wilkerson’s resignation and stripped her of her committee assignments and chairmanships. Several weeks later, she resigned.
Rosenberg, the Senate president, said the circumstances were different back then. “It wasn’t about perception,” he said, “it was about reality.”
With Joyce, he said, there are no charges yet, no detailed affidavits, no photos.
Rosenberg said he did not know what would come of the raid on Joyce’s law office. But he suggested that little has come of the allegations against the Milton senator so far.
The Globe reported last year that Joyce obtained 40 pairs of $234 sunglasses as holiday gifts for his colleagues but didn’t pay for them until the newspaper inquired. Joyce has said the state Ethics Commission closed an inquiry into the matter without taking action.
Under an agreement with the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Joyce agreed to pay almost $5,000 to charity for tapping campaign funds for his son’s graduation party and other campaign finance issues. Joyce did not admit wrongdoing.
Rosenberg said he spoke briefly to Joyce after the Wednesday raid to talk about the logistics of which office would handle inquiries from authorities. But he said they did not discuss the substance of the matter, under advice from Senate counsel.