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Convicted Boston city councilor Charles ‘Chuck’ Turner challenges his removal from office

A Boston city councilor could be convicted of rape, terrorism, even murder, and still remain on the job until sentenced by a judge, the attorney for disgraced former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner said today.

Chester A. Darling appeared before the Supreme Judicial Court, intent on convincing the justices that the council violated Turner’s rights when they voted to kick him off the council after his conviction on federal corruption charges, but before he was sentenced.

During the oral argument before the state’s highest court, Justice Ralph D. Gants posed a question to the 82-year-old Darling, a veteran of a number of high-profile legal battles.

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“So your view is that there is no crime that he could be convicted of – terrorism, murder, rape… bribery — that would justify a city council to remove a city councilor from office after a conviction but before sentencing?’’ Gants asked.

“That’s correct,’’ Darling replied.

The council voted 11-1 to remove Turner, with only City Councilor Charles Yancey dissenting. Turner abstained from the vote.

In court, Darling said the Dec. 1, 2010 action was illegal because it was based on a rule of the city council, not on state law. He also said Turner’s ouster was unconstitutional because the only one with authority to remove a councilor was the voters who put them into office in the first place.

Turner is serving a three-year sentence at a federal prison; his conviction for accepting a $1,000 cash bribe will be reviewed by federal appeals courts. A new city councilor has taken his chair after a special election. But if Darling convinces the SJC to side with him, Turner be eligible to collect an estimated $11,000 in back pay.

Darling said he was not challenging the state law that says a councilor can be removed once they’re sentenced.

An attorney for the City Council, Lisa Maki, told the justices that the council had the power to remove Turner under the state’s ethics law that permits municipal governments to fire employees convicted of corruption crimes.

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In court papers, the city said, “Turner’s removal from office was done to protect the public interest and maintain the integrity of the City Council by eliminating public corruption and preventing the appearance of impropriety.’’

Among Darling’s previous legal victories: A 9-0 ruling from the US Supreme Court that allowed South Boston parade organizers to ban gay marchers from appearing in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.