Rep. Cameron C. Staples exited the stage Tuesday in the Democratic race for attorney general, but the storyline picked up a new complication: A call for an appellate court review of Susan Bysiewicz’s qualifications.
The Connecticut Republican Party filed an appeal of Superior Court Judge Michael R. Sheldon’s ruling that Bysiewicz practiced law as secretary of the state and therefore has the minimum experience required to serve as attorney general.
Staples quit the same afternoon, leaving Bysiewicz in a two-way fight with former Senate Majority Leader George C. Jepsen for the endorsement of next week’s Democratic state convention.
The developments in the attorney general’s race came on the same day that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy introduced Comptroller Nancy S. Wyman as his running mate, setting off a scramble for Wyman’s job.
Nancy DiNardo, the Democratic state chairwoman, said she was aware of two candidates considering a run for comptroller, other than Rep. Thomas Reynolds, who entered the race as Wyman left.
With Wyman’s decision, Treasurer Denise L. Nappier will be the only one of the six statewide constitutional officers seeking re-election, guaranteeing the biggest turnover in the top echelons of state government since 1990.
The morning belonged to Wyman, but the attorney general’s race competed for attention in the afternoon, as it has since Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate in January — and Bysiewicz abruptly jumped into the race.
Bysiewicz complained that the Republicans were making mischief in the run up to the Democratic convention, despite Sheldon’s ruling last week.
“I think this is another attempt by the Republicans to take the decision out of the hands of the voters, because that is the only way that they win,” Bysiewicz said.
Republican State Chairman Chris Healy said Bysiewicz’ remark betrayed her legal inexperience.
“If she actively practiced law, she’d understand we have appeal rights and we have so many days to exercise them,” Healy said.
Healy also noted that it was Bysiewicz who initiated the legal review of her qualifications, not the GOP.
Bysiewicz filed suit against her own office, seeking a declaratory ruling that her experience as secretary of the state should count towards the 10 years of “active practice” as a lawyer in Connecticut required of the attorney general.
“She is the one who had the doubt,” Healy said. “We were merely parties to it.”
Without her time in office, she lacked the 10 years’ of active practice. Sheldon ruled last week that Bysiewicz acted an attorney at times as secretary of the state, even though the position does not require a law degree and her predecessors were not lawyers.
Bysiewicz acknowledged during testimony in the case that she hadn’t been in court since law school, saying she was a corporate attorney, not a litigator.
She said Tuesday that Sheldon’s 92-page decision included 50 pages of details about her legal activities as secretary of the state.
“It would be highly unusual for an appellate court to overturn such a detailed factual finding,” she said.
The GOP filed an appeal with the state Appellate Court, but Bysiewicz’s attorneys will ask that the Supreme Court take the case and hold an expedited hearing before the convention. Healy said he would not object to the Supreme Court assuming jurisdiction.
Whatever the result in court, it will be of no direct interest to Staples, a state legislator from New Haven who ended his campaign.
Staples said he was confident he could have won votes from 15 percent of the delegates at the Democratic state convention, the minimum necessary to qualify for a primary. He was less sure of what would follow.
“At the end of the day, you make an assessment of what your prospects are winning a three-way primary,” he said. “I’ve determined it’s not in the cards for me this year.”
Staples, the co-chair of the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said he will not be seeking re-election to the General Assembly, ending an 18-year legislative career.
He said he has no plans to seek another office this year, including the office of comptroller being vacated by Wyman’s decision to run for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Dan Malloy.
“The comptroller’s job is a great job, but it is not my ambition,” Staples said. “I’m looking forward to just returning to my law practice and being a private citizen.”
Staples has endorsed no one in the race for governor, but he praised Malloy’s selection of Wyman.
“I’m excited for Nancy. Nancy is one of my dearest friends in general, not just in politics,” he said. “She is making a decision that is good for the party and good for the ticket. Clearly this is not as much a shoo in as her run for re-election probably would have been.”
Jepsen is expected to be the biggest beneficiary of Staples’ withdrawal.
“It’s a rapidly changing environment, and there will be some more twists in the road on the way to the convention,” Jepsen said. “I think it will be a close convention.”
But Bysiewicz said she believed that she will pick up delegate support in Hamden and New Haven that had been committed to Staples.
“I think I will be benefitting from Cam’s decision,” he said.
On one thing they were agreed: Staples, whose delegates they now are trying to woo, was a wonderful candidate.
“I have known Cam for 30 years, he is a personal friend and I have always respected his judgment. He would have made an excellent attorney general,” Jepsen said.
Bysiewicz said, “I’ve known him since 1990, when we were working on Richard Blumenthal’s first campaign, and we both ran for the legislature in ’92 and served together on the Judiciary Committee. I thank him very much for his service to the city of New Haven.”