CTNJ file photo
State Police rally back in 2011 against concession package. (CTNJ file photo)

With oral arguments scheduled to take place later this month, the state withdrew its appeal of a lower court decision upholding a state police staffing mandate.

Citing legislative action taken in 2012 that eliminated the 1,248 minimum state trooper staffing mandate and called for a study of police staffing and response times, the state will seek to argue at the lower court level that the litigation is now moot. According to their letter to the Supreme Court, that motion will be filed soon.

“Legislative changes that have taken effect since our appeal was filed and briefed have made moot any claim of a mandatory, judicially enforceable trooper staffing level,” Attorney General George Jepsen’s spokeswoman Jaclyn Falkowski said in a statement. “This fairly straightforward mootness argument will be presented to the trial court and does not require consideration by the Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court was expected to hear oral arguments on Sept. 19. The revised statute now provides the Commissioner of Public Safety with leeway to appoint and maintain “a sufficient number” of sworn state police personnel. When it comes to the union’s demand that the state hire additional troopers, the state makes a claim of sovereign immunity.

In January 2012, Superior Court Judge James Graham sided with the Connecticut State Police Union when he upheld the mandate, saying it was “not merely providing the commissioner the authority to appoint a minimum number of officers, but is directing that he take such action.”

“It is difficult to read this provision as anything other than an acknowledgment that the minimum staffing requirement of 1,248 troopers is mandatory,” Graham wrote. “If it was not, it would have been unnecessary to suspend the statute for a three-year period.”

Later that year, lawmakers eliminated the mandate, which it had largely ignored since it was implemented in 2001.

Proloy Das, the attorney representing the Connecticut State Police Union, said it’s not surprising that the state withdrew its appeal given Judge Graham’s “well-reasoned decision.”

Prior to 2012, the staffing mandate had already been largely ignored, as the legislature only appropriated enough money to fund the stipulated number of troopers during three of the last 10 years. The Connecticut State Police Union filed the lawsuit in 2011 after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy laid off 56 state troopers. The state police union had rejected Malloy’s concession package and in order to block the layoffs it cited the mandate.

The minimum state trooper mandate was first considered by the General Assembly back in 1998 after the murder of Heather Messenger.

Before being murdered by her husband, Messenger, who lived in Chaplin and was pregnant at the time, was able to barricade herself in her bedroom and dial 911. Unfortunately, the local state police barracks had only four troopers on the road that night, and one on desk duty. The four officers were scattered around their 300-square-mile coverage area and it took them 20 minutes to reach Messenger’s residence. They were too late to save her. Before the year was out, lawmakers had codified the mandate for a minimum of 1,248 troopers in Connecticut. The language wasn’t implemented until 2001.

According to State Police Union President Andrew Matthews, the union is considering further legal action. In a statement, Matthews said he was pleased that Malloy “is finally willing to concede that the court was right. The State’s withdrawal of its appeal of Judge Graham’s decision on the Messenger law is a victory for public safety. We have always believed that Judge Graham’s decision was correct and we are pleased that the state is no longer challenging it. We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor and the Commissioner to ensure that appropriate resources are dedicated to provide for the safety of our members as they continue to serve and protect the public.”