More than six months after sealing the political fate of Susan Bysiewicz the state Supreme Court finally issued a 35-page decision explaining why she wasn’t qualified to run for attorney general.
The decision, which comes a week after Journal Inquirer Chris Powell’s scathing editorial on the absence of a decision, five justices unanimously concluded that the legislature intended the position to be held by an attorney “with substantial legal experience.”
“We conclude, therefore, … the phrase ‘attorney at law of at least ten years’ active practice at the bar of this state’ means an attorney with at least some experience litigating cases in court,“ Justice Flemming L. Norcott, Jr. wrote. “Although the presumption of eligibility might require this court to conclude that an attorney who has not practiced exclusively or even primarily as a litigator for at least ten years is qualified to hold the office of attorney general …, the presumption does not authorize us to ignore the clear intent of the legislature that the attorney general must have some measure of experience in trying cases.”
Justice Richard N. Palmer and Justice Thomas Bishop concurred with the other five justices that Bysiewicz was not qualified, but didn’t agree that it was her lack of litigation experience. Instead the two justices wrote a separate opinion stating that it was her lack of clients in her role as Secretary of the State.
“I also agree that the plaintiff, Susan Bysiewicz, does not meet the statutory qualifications for the office of attorney general of the state of Connecticut because the trial testimony established that, in her role as the secretary of the state, she did not have clients with whom she had a confidential relationship and to whom she owed a personal duty of loyalty, and her occasional use of legal knowledge to fulfill her responsibilities does not comprise the active practice of law,” Justice Bishop wrote.
“I also disagree with the majority’s conclusion that the term ‘practice at the bar’ necessarily means courtroom experience.”
Bysiewicz had six years of private legal practice in the state and her lawyers argued that her 11 years as Secretary of the State should also count toward the 10 year requirement because during her tenure she issued rulings, instructions and opinions concerning the administration of elections.
Bysiewicz, who had initially thrown her hat in the ring to run for governor, switched course in January after Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced his decision to run for U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd’s seat. The lawsuit seeking clarification on her qualifications to run for attorney general was filed by Bysiewicz herself. The Republican Party intervened in the case.
“I strongly disagree with the reasoning of the Supreme Court, however I respect the decision and I’ve moved on,” Bysiewicz said Friday in an emailed statement.