Up until this month, Rich Rochlin was just another lawyer seeking clients. He obviously realized he could get them by grabbing headlines. The Malloy administration inexplicably obliged. It is one of the few mistakes the Malloy operation has made.
Gov. Dannel Malloy was wisely out in front of a potential scandal when he announced an investigation was under way into whether state workers fraudulently obtained emergency food stamps during Tropical Storm Irene this summer. He said those found guilty could be terminated and prosecuted.
Enter attorney Rochlin, who up until this point made his living working on business and financial matters so boring as to put one to sleep. But he is also smart enough to know how to get himself some exposure. All he had to do was lay some bait for the sometimes arrogant Malloy administration.
Rochlin claims he has many of the state workers under investigation as clients and they were not at fault in food stamp-gate because people taking the applications screwed up the process. This is where things went horribly wrong for Malloy and his peeps; not on the merits of the issues but rather on how they reacted to be being taunted.
Malloy’s top adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso let Rochlin get under his skin and that’s an understatement. Occhiogrosso is constitutionally incapable of just letting something go. His “how dare you question or criticize us” approach gets him in trouble. Some lawyer surfaces from nowhere to say not nice things about the Malloy administration’s investigation. So what? Fly a little higher and ignore him. Simply stick with, “This investigation into possible fraud is being taken very seriously, we’ll do our due diligence, get it done right and get it done fairly.” Period. Don’t insult, reference, or even acknowledge the lawyer who is desperately trying to get you to do just that.
After some petty—and not very clever—insults between Rochlin and Occhiogrosso, the gloves came off. “The guy is everybody’s worst impression of a lawyer,” Occhiogrosso said. “He’s like a cartoon character. Hopefully, this guy’s 15 minutes of fame are up soon. … There are several pieces of silverware missing from the drawer.” Ironically, it was Occhiogrosso who extended this guy’s 15 minutes and he keeps replacing the silverware only to have it pilfered by Rochlin again.
Say this for Rochlin, he’s not far off with these comments: “Roy is on my marketing team. He keeps extending my 15 minutes by 10 minutes every night. I thought he was a pro, but he’s getting schooled by a novice, so I feel for him…This is amateur hour. It’s like he just came out of an online school for communications. How pathetic,” Rochin told the Hartford Courant. “If he needs advice on how to personally attack me, he has my number. He’s keeping me in the news. I thank him for that. … He’s making all the classic mistakes. My clients’ story is getting out,” he said. Ouch.
Occhiogrosso compounded the situation by having the comment that Rochlin “may not be playing with a full deck” attributed to him. It very well may be true. But it is also true that saying so is beneath the governor’s office and it only throws gasoline on the fire that Rochlin started. In fact, Malloy himself walked back the “full deck” comment by saying, “I wouldn’t have used that terminology.” (Of course, that may have been the plan all along—keep Malloy above it all with a sly smile saying, “Gee whiz, guys, I wouldn’t have put it that way.” But if so, it would be unusual for the top adviser to be the “pit bull.” In fact, it’s kind of sad.)
While it’s not really surprising that Occhiogrosso took the bait, it’s stunning that chief legal counsel Andrew McDonald engaged this screwball Rochlin. McDonald is a brilliant attorney. He is usually media savvy and always understands the political implications of commenting to the press—he almost never does it. But for some mystifying reason, he too, played right into Rochlin’s hands.
McDonald actually wrote and released to news media a letter to Rochin challenging him to have his clients waive their constitutional rights so the administration could release the clients’ food stamp applications. McDonald then commented on the letter to at least one electronic news media outlet. It backed fired. McDonald was trying to call Rochlin’s bluff. However, to the average reader or viewer, it looked like McDonald wanted the possibly aggrieved to throw their rights away. When Malloy was asked about the back and forth with McDonald, the governor exacerbated things by saying he, as a lawyer, would advise a client to waive all his constitutional rights when “[T]hey actually didn’t do what they’re being accused of.” Yikes. He may be a successful governor but you don’t want him between you and the ultimate “flu shot.”
The strange thing is these guys should know better. They took “My Cousin Vinnie” and turned him into Alan Dershowitz.
Patrick Scully is a former Senate Democratic Communications Director