A measure that would specify that a candidate for attorney general only needs to be a registered attorney for 10 years to become a candidate for attorney general passed the General Administration and Elections Committee Wednesday.
The bill would eliminate the active practice standards of qualifications, requiring the candidate to be a practicing attorney for the 10 years before the election.
The measure was introduced after the state’s Supreme Court found last May that then-secretary of the state and attorney general candidate Susan Bysiewicz was not qualified for the position. Bysiewicz dropped out of the race.
However, the issue was raised again just seven days before the election, when Republican candidate Martha Dean filed a lawsuit claiming Democratic candidate George Jepsen was also unqualified due to lack of litigation experience. A Superior Court judge found Dean did not standing to question Jepsen’s qualifications.
Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, said the Supreme Court decision created a lot of questions about whether former attorneys general would have been qualified under the statutes. He said Sen. Joseph Lieberman and other former occupants of the position may not have met the requirements as defined by the decision.
“If you want to hold to the standards the Supreme Court set, it has all sorts of troubling implications. I don’t think that was the intent of the legislature when the statutes were drafted. We’re just trying to clarify that,” he said.
Lesser said Connecticut has the strictest standards for attorney general in the nation and the legislation was aimed at bringing the state more in line with the requirements of other states.
“Even if this law passes, I think we still would have the toughest qualifications in the country. So it’s not as if we are eliminating all our qualifications,” he said.
But Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, disagreed. He said the state Supreme Court determined the level experience needed for the position and it was wrong for the General Assembly to try to legislate an interpretation.
He said the bill, as written, also leaves too many unknowns for potential candidates.
“We can’t anticipate all the different circumstances,” he said.
What happens if somebody had been a practicing attorney but has retired and not been practicing, Hwang asked. Under the legislation, it would not be clear whether that person would be eligible to run for attorney general, he said. Under the Supreme Court decision, that person would not be qualified.
As for having the strictest requirements in the country, Hwang said it’s a compliment to the state’s attorneys general, past and present.
“There was never a question on their legal ability to protect the interests of our community. So for me, I was perfectly happy defining that role,” he said.
The measure will now move back to the House.