The plus side of Gov. Ned Lamont administration’s choice of Deirdre M. Daly to lead an independent review of a state police ticket scandal was obvious enough: She is a former U.S. attorney whose private practice at Finn Dixon & Herling includes conducting internal investigations.
But it comes with at least one potential down side: poor political optics. Daly works for a firm that has worked on investment deals with Oak HC/FT, the venture capital firm co-founded by the governor’s wife, Annie Lamont.
And Daly personally helped the first lady prepare financial reports she’s made to the governor’s office and Office of State Ethics, beginning with Lamont’s first year in office in 2019, that outlined investments by Oak HC/FT, disclosures intended to offer transparency about potential conflicts of interest.
The governor said Thursday he signed off on Daly’s appointment, which was announced Monday, knowing the connection, attracted to Daly’s reputation and reassured by what his office says was advice from the Office of State Ethics that Daly had no conflict.
“Everybody says she’s the best, and I just have to leave it at that,” Lamont said.
Daly has 20 years’ experience as a federal prosecutor in New York and Connecticut, including four years as U.S. attorney, from 2013 to 2017, as an appointee of President Barack Obama. She joined Finn Dixon in 2018, and the firm’s web site says her private practice has included “sensitive internal investigations for public companies, universities, hospitals, asset-management companies, and private equity portfolio companies.”
Last month, an audit by the Racial Profiling Prohibition Project based at the University of Connecticut concluded that troopers had falsified thousands of traffic stop records submitted to the profiling database, skewing the numbers to reflect more infractions for white drivers and fewer for Black and Hispanic motorists.
The exact scope of her review has yet to be set by contract, but the governor’s announcement Monday said he wants an independent review to “determine how and why this misconduct occurred, why it went undetected for so many years, and what reforms should be implemented to ensure that such misconduct does not reoccur.”
Was Lamont concerned that Daly’s work for his wife could undermine the independent nature of the review, which ultimately could reflect on his administration?
“I just think there’s only so many really good firms. She seemed to be the best of breed. Nora can’t do it, because Nora worked for us less than a year ago,” Lamont replied, referring to Nora Dannehy, a former acting U.S. attorney who was the governor’s general counsel until January.
Lamont’s communications director, Adam Joseph, and Attorney General William Tong, whose office must review Daly’s hiring, said separately that Daly’s independence and qualifications were unimpeachable.
“Finn Dixon & Herling’s work for Oak does not create any conflict, appearance of conflict, or reason to question Ms. Daly’s ability to be independent in this investigation of the Connecticut State Police,” Joseph said. “Prior to selecting Finn Dixon & Herling, our office consulted with the Office of State Ethics and determined that no conflict existed.”
Finn Dixon, which is based in Stamford, has represented Oak HC/FT, which Annie Lamont co-founded in 2014, on its investment deals.
On July 21, Jenn Bennett, the deputy general counsel to the governor, made a telephone inquiry to the Office of State Ethics about hiring Daly, according to a summary of the call in the ethics agency’s records. The inquiry focused on potential financial conflicts, the agency’s main mission:
“May the Office of the Governor hire a law firm to perform an investigation if the law firm represents the Governor’s spouse on unrelated matters, and if neither the Governor nor his family members have any financial interest in the law firm?”
The response by Brian O’Dowd was that there is no conflict so long as the governor or first lady had no financial interest in the firm.
In an interview, Tong addressed the broader issue not covered by the ethics code: Would Finn Dixon’s representation of Oak HC/FT or Daly’s of the first lady compromise public faith in the legal team she will lead in conducting the review?
“I don’t think anybody doubts or questions the experience and the skills of the former U.S. attorney, and she is among the very best, most qualified people to conduct such an investigation,” said Tong, a Democrat who is independently elected and not part of the Lamont administration.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody more well-suited than her,” Tong said. “You’d be hard-pressed to find any lawyer who doubts she can do this objectively and independently.”
Tong was a lawyer at Finn Dixon until his election to his first term in 2018, the year Daly joined the firm.