Susan Bysiewicz rocky quest for higher office met an abrupt end Tuesday afternoon, as the State Supreme Court ruled she can’t run for attorney general.
Bysiewicz, a popular Democrat who’s secretary of the state, originally ran for governor this year. Then she shifted gears and ran for attorney general instead—a fateful decision that met controversy from the start. First she wouldn’t commit to serving a full four years. Then it turned out she might not legally qualify for the job, because she hasn’t been practicing law for the past 10 years.
The matter went to court. Bysiewicz convinced the lower court that even though she hasn’t been appearing before judges or doing technical legal work, her job as secretary of the state could still meet the legal definition of being a lawyer. So she had permission to run after all.
But the state Republican Party appealed that lower court decision to the state’s highest court. On Tuesday the court ruled from the bench that Bysiewicz has in fact not been working as a lawyer, and is therefore ineligible to run for attorney general.
Bysiewicz’s attorney Dan Krisch said the high court found that the statute was constitutional and his client did not qualify under it. There was no written ruling, but the justices spent about an hour in chambers deliberating on their decision, Krisch said.
“Right now we don’t know why they ruled the way they did,” Krisch said. Since, there’s not any issues they will be able to take to the U.S. Supreme Court it looks like this is “probably the end of the line.”
“I am tremendously disappointed with the court’s decision overturning Judge Sheldon’s ruling and I strongly disagree with the decision both on the eligibility and the constitutionality issue. However, I do respect the rule of law and will abide by it,” Bysiewicz said Tuesday evening.
Longtime New Haven lawyer Pat King was one of dozens of spectators who made the trip to the high court Tuesday to see the arguments at 2 p.m. Pretty much every seat in the courtroom was taken, she said. After the arguments, Justice Flemming Norcott, Jr. told the lawyers from both sides to stick around—an indication that they would decide the case from the bench, rather than issue a written ruling at a later time.
King, who’s on New Haven’s Democratic Town Committee, stuck around until Norcott emerged with a decision after less than an hour of deliberations and read it aloud.
“I was surprised that they gave a ruling from the bench,” King said. “It’s extremely rare.”
King opined that the ruling was “a good thing, because the convention is coming up, and I think it’s better to have this issue disposed of sooner rather than later.” With the appeal pending, she said, Bysiewicz said “she would be pretty much paralyzed with the open question hanging in the air.”
That throws the attorney general race wide open. Three people had been running for the Democratic nomination: Bysiewicz, New Haven State Rep. Cam Staples, and former state Party Chairman George Jepsen. Staples dropped out last week. That leaves only Jepsen standing. But political insiders were already talking Tuesday afternoon of finding another candidate by this weekend’s convention.
Jepsen was surprised by the court’s decision.
“This is a surprise and I had expected the voters would make the final decision in the August primary,” Jepsen said. “I want to welcome Susan’s supporters to be a part of my campaign team.”