Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim (left) appears in a hearing as his lawyer, Suzanne Sutton, argues at a hearing Tuesday that the mayor has been rehabilitated and sincerely regrets the actions that led to his law license being suspended 20 years ago. “He's helped the city and its people and continues to do so,” Sutton said. Tyler Russell / Connecticut Public

A panel of judges is weighing Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim’s request to resume practicing law after serving a prison sentence on corruption charges.

Ganim’s lawyer, Suzanne Sutton, argued at a hearing Tuesday that the mayor has been rehabilitated and sincerely regrets the actions that led to his law license being suspended 20 years ago.

“He’s helped the city and its people and continues to do so,” Sutton said.

Speaking after the hearing, Ganim said he’s optimistic the judges will find in his favor.

“I’m just appreciative of the time that the judges spent today on hearing this,” he said.

But the mayor’s latest bid to return to the state bar faces a significant hurdle. A committee of Hartford County lawyers recently recommended against reinstating Ganim’s license, finding it would send the wrong message to the public.

Ganim was first admitted to the bar in Connecticut in 1984 and elected mayor of Bridgeport in 1991. He served in that role until his conviction in 2003 on corruption charges.

Federal prosecutors charged Ganim with a wide-ranging scheme to trade his influence for personal gain, including by steering city projects to clients of two associates in exchange for cash, meals, fitness equipment, designer clothing, wine, jewelry and other goods. The men used a portion of the consulting fees they received from clients chosen for city projects for Ganim’s benefit.

Ganim maintained his innocence at trial. A federal jury deliberated for more than a week before convicting him on 16 counts of racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, mail fraud, bribery and filing false income tax returns.

Ganim served seven years of his prison sentence, followed by a period of three years of supervised release.

Ganim, now 63, mounted an unlikely political comeback after leaving prison, winning reelection as mayor of Bridgeport in 2015, and securing another four-year term in 2019.

Despite that electoral success, Ganim was thwarted in his attempts to resume practicing law.

He first applied in 2011 to get his license reinstated. Eleven people testified in his support at that time, including his wife and uncle, two church pastors, two business owners and five attorneys.

He received a favorable recommendation from a committee of lawyers in Fairfield County, though members were vexed by one of Ganim’s entrepreneurial endeavors — a consulting business for federal prisoners.

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim (right) and his lawyer Suzanne Sutton leave the courthouse after seeking Ganim’s reinstatement to the Connecticut bar. He was suspended following his 2003 conviction on corruption charges. Tyler Russell / Connecticut Public

A website for the company displayed marketing messages that suggested Ganim was the victim of a wrongful conviction. One read: “In October 2001, I was targeted and indicted by the Federal Government on various white collar crimes,” and another said that “what happened to me should never happen to you or anyone.”

Ganim removed most of that language from the site after questions surfaced at the hearing.

A panel of trial court judges ultimately denied Ganim’s application, finding he failed to prove his good moral character.

“Ganim’s testimony … does not remotely suggest that he is remorseful and acknowledges the grave mistakes he made such that he can begin upon the path of redemption and rehabilitation,” they wrote.

The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the decision in a 2014 ruling.

Sutton said that initial application was premature.

“It wasn’t until about 2012 or so that he really started his rehabilitation in earnest,” she said.

Ganim applied a second time to have his license reinstated in 2021. The decision may now hinge on whether allowing Ganim to practice law would tarnish the reputation of the Connecticut court system in the eyes of the public.

In a split decision, a committee of lawyers recommended denying the request, finding Ganim’s recent good conduct “does not outweigh the damage his re-admission would cause to the integrity and standing of the Bar, or to the administration of justice.”

First Assistant Bar Counsel Elizabeth Rowe, a lawyer for the Statewide Grievance Committee, offered a similar argument Tuesday.

“When I applied for this job 15 years ago … they asked me what did I think the job was, and I said it’s to get rid of bad lawyer jokes,” Rowe said. “And to me, that’s what we do on a daily basis. We force integrity into the bar and into the court system. And we ask lawyers to hold themselves to a higher standard.”

In a dissenting report, two members of the review committee backed Ganim’s reinstatement application. They wrote that Ganim has unequivocally acknowledged and admitted to his wrongdoing, accepted responsibility for his misconduct and expressed his sense of remorse through words and actions.

“Mr. Ganim’s full commitment to giving back to the people of Bridgeport, the real victims of his misconduct, is clear for all to see,” they wrote. “He has fully committed himself as a twice reelected mayor and earned the trust of the city and its people over the last eight years.”

The decision now lies with judges Charles P. Reed, Theodore R. Tyma and Thomas J. Welch, who were designated to render a decision on Ganim’s application for reinstatement.

This story was first published June 20, 2023 by Connecticut Public.