Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Connecticut pol sues self -- certain of victory?

As Connecticut's Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz explains and defends that state's election laws. But Bysiewicz wants a new job this year; she wants to be elected Connecticut's Attorney General.

By statute, however, a candidate for attorney general in Connecticut must be "an attorney of at least ten years' active practice at the bar of this state." (CGS 3-124). Bysiewicz was a corporate lawyer for eight years before entering politics, but two of these were spent in New York City. She's been Connecticut Secretary of State for more than a decade.

Is that sufficient to meet the statutory requirement? According to this AP story (by Stephanie Reitz) and this press release on Bysiewicz's campaign website, Bysiewicz is contending that (a) her experience is sufficient to meet the requirement and (b) even if her experience is insufficient, the requirement is unconstitutional.

Reitz's story for the AP notes that Republicans have had a field day with Ms. Bysiewicz's suit. The Connecticut GOP was so thrilled about the case that it actually volunteered to join it -- as a defendant -- so it could depose Bysiewicz and force "her to acknowledge... that she's never tried a case and hasn't been in a courtroom since law school." Indeed, Reitz writes, Bysiewicz "acknowledged under grilling by a GOP lawyer that she has never used the manual of Connecticut court procedures and rules governing attorneys, had never sat at a counsel table and had never been to a deposition or been a witness in a case."

Meanwhile, Bysiewicz's campaign bio says that she's a "graduate of Yale College and Duke University School of Law, [that] she is admitted to practice in both New York and Connecticut and has practiced corporate and international law at the law firm of White & Case in New York City, as well as corporate and banking law at Robinson & Cole in Hartford. In addition, Bysiewicz has practiced pension and health care law in the law department of the Aetna Insurance Company."

And they're all talking about the same person, too.

This story seems like an update of the old story about the time Abe Lincoln was on opposite sides of the same issue in two cases argued on the same day in the Illinois Supreme Court. The judges couldn't help but notice. "Surely, Mr. Lincoln," said one of the learned justices, "you can't expect to win both these cases."

"Well, no, Your Honor," replied Honest Abe, "but I figure to win one of them."

Here Bysiewicz is suing herself. One way or the other, she's gotta win this case, right?

More seriously, the constitutional challenge in Connecticut may help to explain why, in Illinois, calls to require minimum legal practice experience requirements for would-be judges are always framed as constitutional amendments. (See, for example, HJRCA 57.)

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