Saturday, December 08, 2012

Restoring subpoena power to State's Attorneys: Courant editorial possible

We all know about the recent Chris Donovan campaign scandal.  We also know that such corruption isn't new to Connecticut.  Over the past fifteen years, we've seen a Governor (John Rowland)State Treasurer (Paul Silvester)State Senator (Ernie Newton) and several big city mayors (Phil Giordano - Waterbury, Joe Ganim - Bridgeport, and Eddie Perez - Hartford) get indicted by federal investigators and sent to prison.  They were not taken down by state investigators.

I didn't realize the significance of this (federal vs. state) until 2007.  It was then that the NYTimes ran an editorial about the scandal engulfing then-State Senator Lou Deluca. It was a piece that explained many of the reasons that have led to the widespread corruption that exists in Connecticut.  One of the reasons was the lack of subpoena power for state investigators, a.k.a. State's Attorneys.

Since then, I've been advocating for the legislature to seriously consider restoring subpoena power for State's Attorneys.  My efforts have included bloggingobtaining local press coverageattending state hearingsgetting state legislation introduced, and writing LTTEs.  And most recently, State Rep. Al Adinolfi indicated to me that he'll be reintroducing legislation in this session.  So in an effort to increase the visibility of this issue -- and make it difficult for other less responsible legislators to hide from this issue -- I reached out to the Courant.

I explained my concern and some of this recent history in this email:

Dear Courant,

In light of what has thus far transpired in the Chris Donovan campaign scandal, I request that you consider writing an editorial on the value of a legislative debate on restoring subpoena power for state's attorneys.

If you are like me -- interested in good government -- then I ask that you glance at this 2007 NY Times editorial that was written during the Lou Deluca scandal. I found it to be a telling commentary on why Connecticut may seem to have a higher degree of corruption than other states. The piece is here.

It opines on the nature of the body politik (the legislature) placing greater importance on comity (and self-interest) than on good government.

I think this is particularly relevant, because I expect a bill -- to restore subpoena power for state's attorneys -- will be introduced in January. I've already spoken with State Rep. Al Adinolfi (R-Cheshire) about such legislation. I suggested he model it on this simple legislation that was introduced by then-Sen. Sam Caligiuri a few years ago.

I expect Rep. Fritz (D-Wallingford) and Rep.-elect Zupkus (R-Prospect -- Zupkus defeated Nardello) will support this legislation as they stated their support during an October debate in Cheshire. Sen. Markley (R-Southington) has also indicated that he's favorable to it.

Shamefully, the legislature's activities continue to suggest our name is Corrupticut. But it doesn't need to be that way. And a discussion on the value of subpoena power is entirely appropriate and, in my opinion, necessary. If the Courant ran an editorial on the topic, I suspect it would be much harder for the legislature to continue ducking and hiding from it... though Spkr Sharkey won't be surprised by the bill. I ran into him about a month ago, introduced myself and personally requested that he consider it. He told me that it's a decision of the Judiciary Committee... to which I reminded him that he -- not the Judiciary -- has the gavel.

Sincerely, Tim White 

p.s. I'm happy to write an LTTE. I do that sometimes. But I feel this issue -- serious deliberation on restoring subpoena power -- is too important for a LTTE that would probably be ignored by most legislators. My guess is that the only way the legislature will consider this is if the media, particularly the Courant, increase the visibility of the issue. Thank you for reading this and considering it.

The Courant was receptive to the idea.  Perhaps they'll write something?  I sure hope so.  And if they do, there's a chance that legislators will be even more responsive as I ask for their support.

Frankly, I don't really expect any such legislation to pass this session.  And while it may seem counterintuitive -- that in light of the Donovan scandal, it would be even more difficult for legislators to publicly oppose this -- I do think the hurdle of passage grows larger.  Why?

Keep in mind the crux of the Donovan scandal: killing bills before they come to a vote.  That is exactly what I expect would happen with this bill.  Probably members of both parties would seek to let it "die in committee."  It's likely that the only way to pass something like this is to increase its visibility to such a level that legislators cannot ignore it and must go "on the record" explaining their views.  And the best way to get elected officials "on the record" is to get voters talking about an issue.  That's why I've made such efforts in the past and will continue doing so in the future.

Tim White

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