Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 11, 2014

Watchdog group calls for investigation into Puckett’s resignation

TAZEWELL, Va. —  A non-profit legal watchdog group is asking the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia to investigate whether former Virginia state Sen. Phillip Puckett violated federal and state anti-corruption laws by resigning from office.

In a press release issued Wednesday to the Daily Telegraph, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington allege that Puckett violated federal and state anti-corruption laws by resigning from office in exchange for an appointment as the deputy director of the Virginia Tobacco Commission and his daughter’s appointment to a state judgeship.

The group also alleges that Puckett’s actions has doomed the expansion of the Affordable Care Act in Virginia to cover poor and disabled residents.

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan called Puckett’s action an “outrage” in the press release.

 “As Virginia’s attorney general inexplicably already has taken a pass on this, it is incumbent on the U.S. Attorney’s office to investigate immediately.” Sloan said.

Puckett hasn’t responded to media calls, including several messages left by the Daily Telegraph seeking comment, since his abrupt resignation on Monday. However, he sent the Daily Telegraph a detailed statement where he addressed both the issue of his daughter’s judgeship, and media reports suggesting he was offered a job with the Virginia Tobacco and Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.

Puckett’s surprise resignation Monday gave Republicans a one-seat advantage in the state Senate where lawmakers, including members of the GOP-controlled House of Delegates, are currently involved in a bitter dispute with Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe over whether to accept federal Medicaid dollars under the new Affordable Care Act law. The prolonged debate could lead to a state government shutdown on July 1.

In his earlier letter to the Daily Telegraph, Puckett said his continued service in the Senate presents a direct conflict with his own daughter.

“My daughter, who is an established attorney in Russell County, has been appointed by area judges to serve in a temporary capacity as a juvenile court judge,” Puckett said. “She cannot be confirmed into the position permanently as long as I serve in the General Assembly. My colleagues on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that she is fully qualified for the position. At this point in my life, I feel that I cannot allow my political career to hamper my daughter's future and her desire to serve the families and children of our area on the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. While I regret the circumstances, I stand by the ethical rule that generally prohibits the appointment of judges who are directly related to sitting legislators.

 But this is not the sole reason for my resignation. My family is dealing with several difficult issues that need our attention. These are private matters and I ask that you respect our privacy in working through them as a family.”

 Puckett also said some media reports have incorrectly suggested that he is resigning to accept a paid employment with the Virginia Tobacco Commission.

“Those reports are incorrect,” Puckett added in the letter. “I have never been officially offered a job by the Tobacco Commission. As stated previously, I have resigned from the Senate of Virginia due to the recent issues that have developed in our family and require our full attention.”

Puckett said he is asking voters to accept his decision and give his family the privacy they desire as they work through the issues.

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