Originally created 12/18/97

Lawmaker faces impeachment



ATLANTA -- After being caught with marijuana in his underwear at the Atlanta airport, a state lawmaker, who is the son of a famed civil rights leader, faces impeachment by his colleagues if a Republican proposal passes.

Rep. Bart Ladd, R-Doraville, has introduced a resolution to impeach Sen. Ralph David Abernathy III, D-Atlanta, saying he has tarnished the reputation of the Georgia General Assembly.

"There has been much controversy in Georgia regarding perceived double standards for General Assembly members and a basic cynicism about the morals and ethics of elected officials in general," Mr. Ladd said at a Capitol press conference. "The lack of any pro-active measures against Sen. Abernathy only added fuel to the fire."

The impeachment measure follows an incident at Hartsfield International Airport two weeks ago, when a U.S. Customs drug-sniffing dog found marijuana hidden in the senator's underwear.

Mr. Abernathy, on his way back from a trip to Jamaica, paid a $500 fine on the spot.

He had no comment on the impeachment proposal, according to his Senate assistant.

Under the Georgia constitution, impeachment proceedings begin in the House, and after a majority approval, move to the Senate for a trial, according to the Republicans backing Mr. Ladd's resolution.

Mr. Abernathy also faces possible sanctions by the Senate Ethics Committee. Lt. Gov. Pierre Howard has asked the committee to determine what authority it has to punish Senate members caught using narcotics or using legal drugs illegally.

Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, has asked U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., to determine whether Mr. Abernathy received special treatment.

"Passing stiffer drug laws does no good when an elected official can waltz through an international airport with marijuana in his pants and only receive a slap on the wrist," Mr. Johnson said in a press release.

Though Gov. Zell Miller issued a statement strongly condemning Mr. Abernathy's behavior, other fellow Democrats have been reluctant to criticize Abernathy.

Senate Appropriations Chairman George Hooks, D-Americus, laughed when he heard of the impeachment proposal.

"I have no comment," he said.

House Appropriations Chairman Terry Coleman also declined comment.

Mr. Abernathy made headlines two years ago when he pushed his way into a ladies' bathroom at the Capitol and refused to leave despite a woman's request.