Sitting elbow to elbow in a radio studio today, Democrat George Jepsen said that Republican Martha Dean’s new lawsuit claiming he is ineligible to be attorney general was a “last-minute, desperate play.”
“The fact of the matter is any true litigator, a good lawyer, would have known you cannot file a case one week before the election with any hope whatsoever of it being disposed of on the merits,” Jepsen said.
Dean said she had no choice but to file a lawsuit Tuesday asking a Superior Court judge to declare Jepsen ineligible or to block state officials from certifying the results of the AG’s race until her suit is resolved.
“I would have let down the voters of Connecticut, who have a right to choose their attorney general at the ballot box,” Dean said, adding that a successful challenge of Jepsen’s status after the election could give the next governor the right to appoint an attorney general.
On WNPR’s “Where We Live,” Jepsen and Dean sharply disagreed over the basis of Dean’s lawsuit and the role they see for the attorney general’s office. Dean also faced listener calls about her promise to advocate firearms training for school children. (Download audio)
The lawsuit, which will be the subject of an initial hearing Friday in Hartford Superior Court, has diverted some media attention from the races for U.S. Senate and governor to the underticket battle to elect a successor to the state’s longest-serving attorney general, Richard Blumenthal.
Jepsen’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the case today, arguing she has no legal standing.
The Connecticut Supreme Court knocked Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz from the race in May, ruling from the bench that she did not meet a statutory requirement of 10 years of active practice as a lawyer in Connecticut.
It followed up with a written decision last week that Dean says raises questions about the eligibility of Jepsen, who has been a lawyer for 26 years, though with limited trial experience.
The court concluded that the law requires an attorney general to have “at least some experience litigating cases in court,” though not exclusively or even primarily. But the law should have been “primary means of earning his or her livelihood for at least 10 years.”
In the case of Bysiewicz, the court said it was undisputed that she had “no experience representing persons in court” and therefore fell short of the eligibility requirements. In Jepsen’s case, the question would how much is enough.
The court said “doubts must be resolved in favor of the person seeking the office,” but a candidate’s experience must be more than “minimal.”
Dean mischaracterized the court decision, saying it also required Jepsen to be admitted to practice before the federal Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court. The decision does not impose those requirements.
“She knows she is going lose on Tuesday,” Jepsen said. “It’s a frivolous lawsuit, and it’s driven by politics more than anything else. It’s simply not going to prevail.”
Dean replied that she filed the suit because it was unclear from the public record if Jepsen met the requirements. His name appears on several state Supreme Court briefs, but she could not find other evidence of an active litigation practice.
Most of the caller questions were directed to Dean, who has attracted attention with a slogan of running on “freedom, faith, fortune.”
Dean said her slogan was not a reference to personal faith, but to the spiritual underpinnings of U.S. democracy.
“I’m talking about the Judeo-Christian tradition, which we recognize, you know, with god on money, god in prayer, Christmas trees, that kind of thing,” she said.
“But a free society means you can have no faith, any faith. You can disagree with those values. You can disagree with your government vigorously and we allow that,” she said.
On one issue of church and state, the two candidates disagreed.
Jepsen said he agreed with a court decision banning the Enfield public schools from holding graduation ceremonies at a church.
Dean disagreed, saying that the constitutional view of church and state is more subtle than an absolute ban on any interaction between government and faith.
“It doesn’t say separation of church and state,” Dean said of the constitution. “It says we’re not allowed to establish through government a state religion.”
Holding a graduation in a church would not have constituted the establishment of a state religion in her view.