This story has been republished with permission from Tennessee Lookout. Read the original story here.
For the first time in history, the Senate expelled a member, voting Wednesday to oust Democratic Sen. Katrina Robinson for violating ethics rules after being convicted of two felony fraud counts totaling less than $3,500.
In a Senate chamber hearing, senators voted 27-5, along party lines, to expel Robinson despite her pleas to wait until after a March 3 sentencing hearing.
At one point in making her case, Robinson called the hearing a “procedural lynching,” drawing cries of support from the gallery where Black lawmakers and friends stood.
Senators heard the basis for Robinson’s expulsion, a conviction on two counts of wire fraud in connection with expenses federal prosecutors said she illegally took from her nursing school, The HealthCare Institute in Memphis. The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Robinson with 48 counts of embezzling more than $600,000 from her school between 2016 and 2018. She received federal grants of $2.2 million, which was to be used to run the school, but federal prosecutors claim she spent the money illegally, using it for a lavish lifestyle, including spending it on her wedding and then to pay for a divorce.
Robinson’s attorneys urged the Senate to wait until after her March 3 sentencing, saying they could be filing motions to have the two convictions dropped. If the judge hearing the case refuses and confirms the felony convictions, the senator would resign, her attorneys said.
Her counsel also argued that the counts against her are questionable and still could be dismissed.
“The harm is significant,” said Robinson’s attorney, Janika White.
By the time Robinson’s trial ended in September 2021, she was convicted on only four counts, two wire fraud charges and two counts of misleading financial reports, the latter of which U.S. District Court Judge Sheryl Lipman dropped. The judge, however, denied her request for a retrial and refused to drop the two remaining charges and set sentencing for March 3.
That decision set in motion action by the Republican-controlled Senate to expel her for violating its ethics code. Convicted felons are not allowed to serve in the Senate.
Republican Sen. John Stevens argued that the Senate waited until the judge opted against dropping the final two counts.
Robinson sought to remain in the Senate, at least until her sentencing date, on the outside chance that the judge would consider another request for a new trial or drop the final two charges. But senators, who considered expelling Robinson during two special sessions last fall, moved forward based on her September 2021 felony conviction and a pretrial diversion agreement she reached in December 2021 with federal prosecutors on a charge she allegedly bilked a nursing school student out of more than $14,000.
The Tennessee Democratic Party urged the Senate Tuesday evening to wait until Robinson’s case is complete, contending moving too fast would violate her right to due process and set a bad precedent for Black women.