Bysiewicz goes to court over qualifications for AG

bysiewicz press conference 2-18-10

Democratic chair Nancy DiNardo, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and attorney Wesley Horton at Thurday’s news conference

By going to court to resolve whether she meets the minimum statutory qualifications for attorney general, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz conceded Thursday that the question has endangered her candidacy.

“It is a significant question in the minds of the voters of the state, and I think it is very important to get an answer,” said Bysiewicz, who insisted two weeks ago that court intervention was unnecessary.

She acknowledged what has been clear for days: Some potential delegates to the Democratic nominating convention in May were unwilling to support her for attorney general without assurances she could legally serve if elected.

“I have been told by voters and delegates they want this resolved, absolutely,” Bysiewicz said.

In a lawsuit announced Thursday, Bysiewicz is simultaneously seeking a declaratory ruling that she is qualified and also is challenging the constitutionality of the statutory requirement that a candidate for attorney general must have 10 years of active practice in Connecticut.

Unless her 11 years as secretary of the state are counted, Byiewicz falls short.

Bysiewicz had initially rejected a suggestion by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal that she seek a court’s guidance, calling her qualifications a matter for voters, not a judge. But she acknowledged Thursday that potential delegates have told her the issue must be resolved before then.

“I welcome this court case. I think it will be an opportunity to resolve once and for all a question that has been lingering in Connecticut law for more than 100 years,” she said.

Her lawyer, Wesley Horton of Hartford, said he will seek an expedited hearing in Superior Court and, if necessary, speedy consideration by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Blumenthal said he will defend the constitutionality of the law.

Her rivals for the Democratic nomination and the Connecticut Republican Party will be formally notified of the litigation, giving them an opportunity to intervene.

Former Senate Majority Leader George C. Jepsen and Rep. Cameron C. Staples, D-New Haven, the other Democratic candidates, said they will decline.

“It’s really a legal question for a judge. I’m just plowing ahead with my own campaign. I think the fact it’s an issue at all is an indication of how paper thin her real world qualifications are,” Jepsen said.

“I’m running on my own merits,” Staples said. “I’m not going to get involved in this court case.”

Republican State Chairman Chris Healy said he would take a day to decide about intervening.

“We’re certainly going to consider it seriously,” Healy said.

Horton said he believed that a judge could find for Bysiewicz based on a review of the law and her statutory responsibilities as secretary of the state, but other parties potentially could seek to examine Bysiewicz or her staff under oath.

Bysiewicz has been a lawyer for 24 years, but she falls short of 10 years of active practice in Connecticut if her time as secretary of the state is disallowed. Secretaries of the state are not required to be lawyers, but Bysiewicz is saying the office qualifies because she supervises a small legal staff.

“That is the same kind of job Richard Blumenthal does as attorney general, and it is why I believe the campaign will show I am the best qualified person for the job of attorney general,” she said.

Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo, who was among those pressing for a resolution in court, accompanied Bysiewicz at a press conference in Horton’s office.

The suit names DiNardo, the Connecticut Democratic Party and Byiewicz’s own office, the Office of Secretary of the State, as defendants. Horton said they were named to give them legal standing. They are not adverse parties, he said.

Healy said the episode is one of the strangest chapters in Connecticut politics.

“It’s a comic opera,” Healy said.

The question for Bysiewicz: Will a court resolve her status in time?

“It’s not 100 percent clear that this will be resolved prior to the convention or even the primary,” Jepsen said. “We still may have a situation where a potential nominee’s qualifications are still up in the air.”