Court rules Bysiewicz ‘engaged in active practice’

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz has engaged in the “active practice” of law in her constitutional office for the last 11 years, qualifying her to be attorney general, a Superior Court judge ruled today.

The case was filed to resolve whether she meets the minimum statutory qualifications for attorney general. If her tenure as the secretary of the state were not counted, Bysiewicz would have fallen short of the 10-year active practice requirement.

“I never doubted that I had the right to run for attorney general, and more importantly that the Connecticut voters have the right to chose who their next attorney general will be,” Bysiewicz said.

Bysiewicz said while this legal battle distracted from her campaign it also provided an opportunity “to show the people of Connecticut how I stand up and fight.”

Judge Michael R. Sheldon’s 93-page ruling comes 16 days before the Democratic State Convention begins in Hartford to make endorsements for attorney general and other statewide offices.

Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo expressed relief that Sheldon issued his decision before the convention.

“Over the last several days, I have fielded questions from several delegates concerned that the issue would not be resolved before the convention. This will alleviate that concern and provide them what they need to make an informed decision as to who they will vote to nominate as the endorsed candidate of the Democratic Party for the office of attorney general,” she said.

The Connecticut Republican Party intervened in the case, arguing Bysiewicz, though a lawyer, lacked the years of service at representing clients, arguing before judges, preparing legal briefs and otherwise engaging in an active practice of law.

Sheldon’s ruling “is disturbing but not completely unexpected,” GOP State Chairman Christopher Healy said, adding judges traditionally are wary of intervening in matters of party politics. “But one wonders whether the judge was at the same trial as the rest of us. The evidence she provided shows she is no where close to being qualified. The secretary was not able to point with any detail to anything that showed her legal acumen.”

Healy added the state party will review the decision in detail before deciding whether to appeal the ruling. It was unclear Wednesday whether any appeal would be presented to the state Appellate Court, or to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Former Democratic state Sen. George C. Jepsen of Stamford, who also is running for attorney general, said he also was not surprised by Sheldon’s conclusions.

“I’ve never challenged her credentials to be in the race and also believed that a judge would be appropriately reluctant to remove someone from the ballot,” he said.

Rep. Cameron C. Staples, D-New Haven, who is also running for attorney general said he is glad that issue is finally resolved.

“I look forward to running on the issues and on the differences in our qualifications,” he said.

The most recent Quinnipiac University poll has Bysiewicz as the frontrunner for attorney general with 54 percent, followed by Jepsen at 10, and Staples with 2 percent. However, 31 percent were undecided in the March poll.

Secretaries of the state are not required to be lawyers in Connecticut, but the ruling says Bysiewicz “issued several opinions on matters of election administration to local election officials, party leaders, candidates for office and citizens. … These requests, which are made of her personally almost every day, have frequently required the plaintiff to use her legal skill and training to give proper guidance to election officials for the benefit of the general public.”

Sheldon declined to address the constitutionality of the 10-year requirement, another challenge raised by Bysiewicz in case she was deemed to fall short of the minimum years of active practice.