A Hartford Superior Court judge opened proceedings today in a case that could determine if Susan Bysiewicz, the Democratic front-runner in the race for attorney general, is legally qualified to hold the office.

Without objection from attorneys for Bysiewicz, Judge Michael R. Sheldon accepted the Connecticut Republican Party as an intervenor in the case, meaning that the GOP might eventually get to question Bysiewicz under oath about her legal background.

Sheldon set a schedule for discovery in what he says will be an expedited case that Bysiewicz hopes to resolve before Democrats endorse a candidate for attorney general at their nominating convention May 22.

“There are certainly going to be needs for discovery in this matter,” Sheldon said.

The judge’s statement means he is unlikely to summarily rule on Bysiewicz’s claim that a state law setting an experience standard for attorney general is unconstitutional. Her lawyers say the only constitutional requirement is that Bysiewicz be a registered voter and an attorney.

Instead, Bysiewicz will be asked to submit evidence supporting her that tenure as secretary of the state constitutes the practice of law, which would give her 10 years of “active practice” required under Connecticut law.

Sheldon continued the case until March 10.

Bysiewicz did not attend the hearing today, but Eliot B. Gersten, a lawyer for the Republican Party, said he hopes to eventually question her in court about her legal qualifications.

Bysiewicz has been a lawyer for more than 20 years, but she lacks 10 years of active practice in Connecticut unless her 11 years of service as secretary of the state is counted.

At the urging of party officials, Bysiewicz went to court last month seeking a declaratory ruling about her qualifications and the constitutionality of the 10-year requirement.

Bysiewicz said she was told by some Democrats that they could not support her nomination without being assured she could legally serve.

She is represented by Wesley Horton and Dan Krisch of Horton, Shields and Knox. The attorney general’s office is defending the constitutionality of the minimum-experience law. Her own office of secretary of the state, which oversees elections in Connecticut, is a defendant.

Horton and Krisch said they will turn over documents — opinions on election law that she signed as secretary of the state — that they say show she was engaged in the practice of law.

They conceded that her predecessors, who were not attorneys, could have signed similar opinion letters on the advice of her office’s small legal staff.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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