(Updated) Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said voters and delegates urged her over the past few weeks to resolve the question surrounding her qualifications for the position of attorney general. After first denying that she had a credibility problem, Bysiewicz retained the law firm of Horton, Shields, and Knox to file a lawsuit Thursday against the state and the Connecticut Democratic Party.
A pall has been cast over Bysiewicz’s candidacy for attorney general almost since its inception when a blogger wondered if she met the 10 years of active practice provision. A 14-page legal opinion written weeks later by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal refused to definitively answer the question. Blumenthal concluded the 10 years of active practice provision was constitutional and said the question regarding Bysiewicz’s specific qualifications will be up to the courts to decide.
Meanwhile, Bysiewicz contended Blumenthal’s opinion validated her position that she is qualified, but at some point changed her mind and decided to seek the court’s blessing.
“Susan’s 11 years as Secretary of the State along with her 8 years of private practice as an attorney more than meet the qualifications of the statute,” Wesley Horton, one of Bysiewicz’s lawyers, said.
Horton said that if he fails at making that argument he’s more than happy to make the constitutional argument, which would include arguing that Bysiewicz only needs to be an elector over the age of 18 in order to qualify as a candidate for the office. He said the 10 years of active practice provision in the statute is trumped by the state’s constitution, but that’s not to say she doesn’t need to be an attorney.
“I’m not going to take the position that the Attorney General doesn’t have to be an attorney,“ Horton said.
Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo, who is named along with the party as a defendant in the case, said she’s thankful that Bysiewicz made the difficult decision to file the lawsuit. She said the party will be cooperative. The party’s lawyer, Kevin Reynolds, doesn’t think the lawsuit will require the party to expend a lot of resources.
Rep. Cameron Staples of New Haven, one of Bysiewicz’s Democratic opponents, agreed with DiNardo that the state party needs to clarify the issue.
“This cloud has been lingering for the last month. The voters and delegates weighing their choices have to have some clarity before nominating process begins,” Staples said, adding that his qualifications are not in question.
Bysiewicz’s other Democratic opponent, George Jepsen, was less conciliatory.
“The fact that she has to go to court at all underscores how paper thin her actual, real world experience is as a practicing attorney,” Jepsen said. “Win or lose in court, the issue of her qualifications will not go away. Republicans can be expected to appeal any favorable decision to the state Supreme Court. The Democratic Party cannot afford a nominee whose legal fitness to serve remains in doubt.”
Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy said he would seriously consider filing an appeal, if it comes to that.
“Fortunately, the Republican candidate exploring a run for Attorney General is fully qualified to represent the state and defend its interests without a cloud,” Healy said.
He also said he was happy Bysiewicz filed the lawsuit on her own dime. When asked if she was receiving a discounted rate, Bysiewicz refused to say Thursday how much she was paying for the prestigious firm’s representation.
Healy said he believes she will have to disclose her legal bills in her campaign finance reports since it’s personal money she’s expended that benefits her campaign.
“If she thinks she can get away without reporting it she’s mistaken,” Healy said.