Walter R. Tucker III is the fourth California congressman convicted of a crime while holding office.
Before Tucker, the most recent case involved Rep. Andrew J. Hinshaw (R-Newport Beach), who was found guilty in state court on Jan. 26, 1976, of taking bribes while Orange County’s assessor.
Hinshaw’s case illustrates a little-known aspect of congressional disciplinary rules. A felony conviction does not automatically bar a member from continuing to sit in the House of Representatives.
The House code of conduct calls for a convicted member to refrain from taking part in committee business and from voting on the House floor, but he may keep his congressional seat and salary and may also seek reelection.
That is exactly what Hinshaw did despite calls for his resignation by newspaper editorialists, the League of Women Voters and some fellow Republicans. A motion to expel him was defeated by a voice vote without debate late in 1976 as Hinshaw neared the end of his second and last term.
Hinshaw served eight months behind bars.
Four years later, the House did expel a convicted member, Rep. Michael Myers (D-Pa.), who had been snared in Abscam, the FBI’s bribery sting operation.
Preceding Hinshaw on the roll of convicted congressmen from California was Rep. Ernest K. Bramblett (R-Fresno), who was found guilty in 1954 of lying about kickbacks from his congressional office employees. Bramblett, a four-term lawmaker, was fined $5,000 and given a suspended two- to four-month jail sentence.
The first California congressman convicted while in office was Rep. John H. Hoeppel (D-Arcadia), a two-term legislator who was found guilty in 1936 of trying to sell a West Point appointment. He received a four- to 12-month jail sentence and was fined $1,000.
In California’s history, two other members of Congress have been charged with crimes but not convicted.
One was Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge), who was indicted along with an aide in 1986 in connection with her bid for a U.S. Senate nomination. Fiedler was charged under an 1893 statute with offering state Sen. Ed Davis $100,000 to drop out of the race. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office dropped the charges, saying there was insufficient evidence to pursue the case.
The first California congressman charged with a crime while in office was Rep. Philemon T. Herbert, a Democrat from Mariposa.
On an evening in 1856, according to House historian James T. Currie, Herbert found himself being ignored by a haughty waiter in the dining room of Willard’s, the capital’s most fashionable hotel.
“Losing his patience,” wrote Currie, “and perhaps feeling the snub more acutely than he had a right to do, Herbert pulled out his pistol and shot and killed the man.”
Herbert was charged with manslaughter but was acquitted.
“The House did not censure Rep. Herbert for his act,” added Currie, “thereby giving a certain justification to it.”