When she held a press conference in August 2006 to announce the selection of new voting machines required under the Help America Vote Act, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz testified Thursday that she was engaged in the “active practice of law.”
And despite lengthy and sometimes repetitive questioning of Bysiewicz by the Republican Party’s attorney, Superior Court Judge Michael Sheldon said there is lawyering work assigned to her office by statute and, based on her testimony, Bysiewicz participates in it.
“I never stop being a lawyer,” Bysiewicz said Thursday during her second day testimony in response to questions from Eliot Gersten, the Republican Party’s attorney.
Gersten spent more than two hours again trying to narrow exactly how much time Bysiewicz spends engaged in practicing law as he prepares to argue next week that her 11 years in public office should not count toward the 10-year statutory requirement she must meet to run for attorney general. At one during Thursday’s proceeding, Bysiewicz said that there are many types of lawyers practicing law, but only about 7 percent are litigators. Gerston responded by asking whether Bysiewicz had ever drafted a motion and offered other questions similar to those asked earlier both during pre-trial deposition and during Wednesday’s court testimony. “Have you ever participated in discovery?” Gerston asked. “Have you ever interviewed a witness?”
As Gersten picked up where he left off Wednesday, Bysiewicz attorney Wesley Horton stood up to object to a specific line of questioning regarding attorney-client privilege.
Horton said that after a day-and-a-half of cross-examination it has become clear that during her tenure in public office Bysiewicz has not represented any clients to which attorney-client privilege would apply.
“He’s trying to stage to the press, not the court,” Horton said. “It’s outrageous your honor.”
Judge Sheldon didn’t rule on the objection, but instead said, “I’m your audience here,” and allowed more discussion.
Gersten continued to question Bysiewicz about what documents she, along with lawyers in her office, draft and if those documents are considered confidential under attorney-client privilege.
With Bysiewicz still on the stand, Gersten presented her calendar for the past 12 years and pointed to random dates to ask if she remembered engaging in the active practice of law.
“One of the nice things about public service is you do not have to fill out time sheets in 10-minute intervals,” Bysiewicz said. She said her calendar is there to remind her of specific public events or pre-arranged meetings she’s expected to attend, but does not reflect every conversation she has in a day.
When the line of questioning continued, Judge Sheldon interrupted and said, “there’s very few people I’ve met in my life who can recall specific dates. You’re beating the same drum. Honestly I think it’s time to move on.”
By the end of the day, Gersten moved for dismissal of the case, but Sheldon denied the motion. He said that just because previous Secretaries of the State were not lawyers does not mean Bysiewicz doesn’t do some of the lawyering in her office. He said there is lawyering work assigned to that office by statute and based on her testimony, she participates in it.
To that end, Bysiewicz’s attorneys put Deputy Secretary of the State Lesley Mara on the stand to testify about conversations on election law both she and Bysiewicz have had with local officials.
Mara testified that one of the most recent occasions during which she witnessed Bysiewicz giving legal advice was in March during the Town Committee primaries. Mara said she was on the call when Bysiewicz contacted officials in Suffield to discuss the recount.
Mara said she and Ted Bromley, another lawyer in Bysiewicz’s office, were on the phone with a Suffield official “offering statutory citations, if needed, but she handled the bulk of that call.”
Toward the end of Thursday’s testimony, Gersten called Mark DuBois, the state’s Chief Disciplinary Counsel, who oversees the discipline of all 36,000 Connecticut lawyers.
DuBois was asked about Bysiewicz’s registration with the Statewide Grievance Committee. Gersten pointed out that while Bysiewicz is registered, she is registered at her home address. Usually an attorney registers the address where they practice.
Bysiewicz explained earlier in the day that they kept sending the renewal notice to Robinson and Cole, her former employer, so she decided to have it sent to her home instead.
“We don’t actively police registrations,” DuBois testified.
DuBois’ testimony was limited Thursday to the registration issue because Judge Sheldon refused to allow him to enter expert testimony on Connecticut law. Gersten said DuBois has expertise in this area and knows about the laws that govern lawyers not only in Connecticut, but in other states.
The judge decided that since Bysiewicz’s two years at White and Case in New York were not being counted toward the 10 year requirement, DuBois’ testimony about foreign jurisdictions would be irrelevant.
“Connecticut law – that’s my responsibility,” Sheldon said.
DuBois offered to submit a friend-of-the-court brief by Monday on the issue. Bysiewicz’s attorneys submitted their brief in the case last week. Click here to read it.
Closing arguments in the case will be heard Tuesday, but it is unclear how quickly the judge will rule. The Democratic state convention, where delegates will be asked to nominate candidates, is slated for May 22.