A court challenge by Michael Jarjura will keep Kevin Lembo’s public financing tied up until at least late this afternoon in the race for the Democratic nomination for comptroller.

A Hartford Superior Court judge heard testimony until Monday evening on Jarjura’s complaint that Lembo was improperly awarded $375,000 in public financing. Testimony resumed today.

“It’s a pretty naked attempt by the Jarjura campaign to stop Kevin Lembo from getting his message out,” said Patty McQueen, a spokeswoman for the Lembo campaign.

Superior Court Judge James T. Graham said this afternoon he will rule by 5 p.m.

Jarjura said he will not appeal if Graham denies the injunction.

“I’ve taken this as far as I’m going to take it,” Jarjura said.


Michael Jarjura, Democratic candidate for comptroller, outside Superior Court (Mark Pazniokas)

Lembo agreed last week not to spend the public funds until after the hearing. If Jarjura prevails in court, Lembo’s campaign will be without resources with just two weeks until the Aug. 10 primary.

Jarjura, whose own publicly financed campaign hit Lembo with an attack mailer over the weekend, is asking Graham to permanently block Lembo from spending the money.

Jarjura, the Waterbury mayor, said he is trying to force the State Elections Enforcement Commission to follow its own rules. He testified briefly Monday.

The legal challenge is the second of two attempts by Jarjura to deny public financing to Lembo, the state’s health-care advocate and a former policy adviser to Comptroller Nancy Wyman.

To qualify for a primary grant of $375,000, Lembo and Jarjura had to raise $75,000 in contributions of no more than $100. Lembo appeared to qualify at the deadline of July 16.

Jarjura first filed a complaint demanding that the commission disallow some qualifying contributions Lembo raised through an exploratory committee.

He claimed that Lembo actually had become a de facto candidate for lieutenant governor while he was raising money as an exploratory candidate. If so, no funds could be transferred to another race.

Using discretion it says the law allows, the commission advised Lembo to raise additional qualifying funds to render moot the status of the exploratory funds. He continued raising money for three days.

Jarjura then sued in Superior Court, saying that the commission had no authority to give Lembo the time to raise the additional funds.

“Deadlines are deadlines,” Jarjura said Monday evening.

The case is the third filed this year with the potential to settle a nomination for statewide office. Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz had to abandon a run for attorney general after the Supreme Court concluded she did not have the requisite legal experience.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley unsuccessfully tried to block a rival, Michael C. Fedele, from obtaining public financing.

Lembo won the endorsement of the Democratic State Convention in May to succeed his mentor and former boss, Wyman.

After exploring a run for lieutenant governor, Lembo declared his candidacy for comptroller after Wyman accepted Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy’s invitation to be his running mate.

Jarjura, who explored a run for governor and lieutenant governor, finally declared as a candidate for comptroller. He qualified for primary by winning more than 15 percent of the delegate vote at the nominating convention.

Knowing that Democratic primary voters tend to be liberal, Lembo’s campaign was quick to highlight Jarjura’s political liabilities in June. He is a cultural conservative who opposes abortion rights and is an adviser to the Family Institute of Connecticut, which opposes gay marriage. He also backed the hiring of John Rowland, the disgraced former Republican governor, in an economic development job partly funded with city money.

“I think they started it off,” Jarjura said. “Every campaign will tell you, ‘No, they did it.’ It was bizarre, to say the least.”

Over the weekend, Jarjura sent a mailer to registered Democrats, accusing Lembo of being a secret conservative who has misrepresented his resume and his work running the Office of Healthcare Advocate. The mailer directed Democrats to a web site created by Jarjura’s campaign, lembolies.com.

“Some of my opponents’ claims are just bizarre.  But let me be clear – I have never ever lied to the people of Connecticut or distorted my record,” Lembo said.

One of the claims was that Lembo, a protege of Wyman and the first openly gay candidate to qualify for a statewide primary, was a closet conservative, because he once worked in New York in the office of Betsy McCaughey, a Republican lieutenant governor who later became a Democrat.

“I didn’t (and still don’t) agree with every policy position Betsy takes,” Lembo said in a written statement. “But for the record, she is probably less conservative than the Mayor of Waterbury; she actually supports a woman’s right to choose.”

Jarjura also suggested in the mailer and on lembolies.com that Lembo, who frequently clashes with health insurers, actually was beholden to the insurance industry.

“Lembo forgot to tell us that his “Health Care Advocate” salary is paid for by the insurance industry,” the web site says.

That is true, but the funding is hardly voluntary or evidence of a cozy relationship with the industry. The state funds the Office of Healthcare Advocate by imposing a special tax on insurers, just as it pays for banking regulators by assessing the banking industry.

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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