Bysiewicz: Court experience limited to a small claims case

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, the front-runner in the race for attorney general, admits in a deposition released Tuesday that she never has appeared in court as a lawyer.

A lawsuit she filed to settle questions about her qualifications instead has produced 10 hours of videotaped testimony in which Bysiewicz acknowledges that in 24 years as a lawyer, she never has written a brief, questioned a witness or attended court to observe a trial or legal arguments.

Her one court appearance came representing herself in small claims court, where a law degree is not required.

“And I did win,” she said.


Susan Bysiewicz

The testimony will be fodder for political opponents as she competes for the Democratic nomination, but it does not automatically disqualify her as a candidate for attorney general.

It is up to Superior Court Judge Michael Sheldon to decide if Bysiewicz’s other experiences gives her 10 years of “active practice” in Connecticut, a statutory requirement to be attorney general.

She concedes falling short of the 10-year mark unless her 11 years as secretary of the state, a position typically held by non-lawyers, are counted as the active practice of law.

Sheldon also could strike down the statutory requirement as unconstitutional, igniting an appeal by the state that could keep a cloud over Bysiewicz’ qualifications deep into the campaign season.

The attorney general’s office released 519 pages of deposition transcripts late Tuesday after Bysiewicz’s lawyer, Wesley Horton, withdrew a motion seeking to keep the documents and video recordings private.

“It’s now there for all voters to see,” said Chris Healy, the Republican state chairman, who observed the first of Bysiewicz’s three days of deposition testimony.

The Republicans were invited to intervene after Bysiewicz went to court in February, seeking a declaratory ruling that she meets the 10-year requirement. She sought the ruling after Attorney General Richard Blumenthal issued a legal opinion defending the constitutionality of the requirement.

Bysiewicz was questioned by the Republicans’ lawyer, Eliot Gersten, who says the “active practice” statute can be construed to mean a courtroom litigator.

“You’ve never been to court, correct?” Gersten asked.

“No,” she replied.

“Never asked questions of a witness in a deposition, correct?” he asked.

“I’ve never asked questions of a witness,” she replied.

Bysiewicz initially said she had observed court cases, but the only one she could recall came before she was a lawyer.

“Can you name the most recent?” Gersten asked.

“I believe in law school I went to an argument at the Connecticut Supreme Court,” said Bysiewicz, who attended a year of law school at the University of Connecticut, then transferred to Duke University.

“I don’t mean to sound flippant, but I don’t think — that’s the most recent one you can recall?  That would be what, somewhere 25 years ago, if my math is right?

“Yes,” she replied.

A transcript shows Gersten and Horton clashed several times during the first day of the deposition, which was held March 31. (Transcripts also are available for the other two days, April 5 and April 6.)

“I think you’re badgering the witness,” Horton said, interrupting when Gersten challenged one of Bysiewicz’s answers.

Later, Gersten responded to another interruption by accusing Horton of harassment.

“I’ve got witnesses here, I got a record and I’m telling you, stop it,” Gersten said.

Gersten challenged a public statement by Bysiewicz that she had experience similar to Richard Blumenthal, the man she hopes to succeed as attorney general.

“You’re not a litigator? Gersten asked.

“No,” she replied.

“He was?”

“Correct. “

“So that’s one difference when you’ve indicated to people ‘My experience is the same as Dick Blumenthal’s, I’m just as qualified,’ that’s one distinction between the two, correct? “

“We do have similar experiences.  We both were in private practice.  We both served in the legislature.  And I run a large constitutional office.  I supervise lawyers.  I give legal advice,” she replied.

She also frequently sought legal advice, from her staff attorneys and from a cadre of volunteer lawyers who helped prepared her legal case.

Bysiewicz said she was the recipient of free legal advice from at least three lawyers at the Hartford firm of Updike, Kelly & Spellacy.

Her former campaign treasurer, Richard Orr, also advised her, she said. He was legal counsel to the House majority under former Speaker Thomas D. Ritter.

Sheldon is scheduled to conduct a trial in the case April 14 and 15, with final legal arguments on April 20.

On May 22, Bysiewicz will seek the endorsement of a Democratic nominating convention. She is opposed by George Jepsen, the former Senate majority leader, and Rep. Cameron C. Staples, D-New Haven.