Brian Joyce’s ethical cloud challenges the Senate

Senator Brian Joyce (center) was an attorney for Organogenesis and celebrated its groundbreaking in 2010.
Senator Brian Joyce (center) was an attorney for Organogenesis and celebrated its groundbreaking in 2010.handout

Senator Brian Joyce has become the Hans Brinker of thin ethical ice.

And Stan Rosenberg, the Senate’s new president, can’t let the Milton Democrat skate away without consequences — not, that is, if Rosenberg hopes to protect the reputation of the body he leads.

On Sunday, the Globe’s Andrea Estes detailed Joyce’s regular intermingling of his private-sector work as a lawyer with his public position. According to the story, the Milton Democrat has repeatedly intervened with state regulators on behalf of a company that has hired his law firm. He has also sponsored or pushed legislation that would benefit companies or franchise owners who are clients of his firm. In one illuminating example of his Mobius strip of intermingled interests and activity, Joyce filed legislation favored by a business association whose members 1) included clients of his law firm and 2) later donated $9,000 to his reelection campaign.


These sunglasses were given by Brian Joyce to a colleague.
These sunglasses were given by Brian Joyce to a colleague.Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe

In another eye-opening incident, the Milton Democrat got a huge discount on expensive sunglasses he gave out as gifts. He also spent $3,400 of his political committee’s funds on his son’s graduation party, claiming it was part of his reelection effort. Honestly, who does that kind of thing? Other than a greedy, ethically oblivious pol, that is?

Now, this obviously doesn’t rise to the level of stuffing one’s bra with bribes, as then senator Dianne Wilkerson did back in 2007. And it’s nowhere near as bad as sexually harassing women on the street, as then Senator Jim Marzilli did in 2008.

But the revelations will certainly reinforce the public impression that some legislators are much more interested in self-serving wheeling-and-dealing than in faithfully attending to the public interest.

Whether any of this crosses legal lines remains to be seen, but it certainly cries out for an investigation by the State Ethics Commission and the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Indeed, if Joyce really has adhered to all ethical requirements, as his lawyer professes, he should ask for an Ethics Commission investigation himself, to clear his name.


I asked his office if he’d do that. No answer.

Not that I expected one. Joyce’s strategy clearly is to hunker down and wait this out. And he’s obviously hoping that, because he signed on early in Rosenberg’s quest for the presidency, the Senate president will go along by adopting a wait-and-see posture.

So what’s Rosenberg doing?

“We’re reviewing the options,” says Natasha Perez, chief of staff for the Senate president.

Rosenberg is no doubt torn. Although possessed of good-government instincts, he’s also conflict-averse and cautious, someone inclined to finesse rather address thorny matters like this one.

But as a new leader trying to set the right tone, Rosenberg can’t let this mess fester. Inaction will define him as lacking the toughness needed in his position.

So what would a bold president do?

First, he’d suspend Joyce from his post of assistant majority leader.

Second, given Joyce’s failure to disclose some potential conflicts, a resolute leader would decree that his wayward charge can’t serve on any committee whose subject area is of interest to his legal clients.

But most importantly, he would join the call for an Ethics Commission investigation.

He could stipulate that doing so doesn’t necessarily mean that he believes Joyce has done something legally wrong — but that with the Senate’s reputation at risk, a responsible president needs to be sure.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.