Hugh McQuaid photo
Hartford Superior Court (Hugh McQuaid photo)

A superior court judge declined to issue a temporary restraining order against the state Democratic Party and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s re-election campaign Monday after a hearing on a lawsuit filed by state Republicans. He also denied a motion to make state election regulators a party to the case.

Lawyers for state Republicans, Democrats, Malloy’s campaign and the State Elections Enforcement Commission crowded into a small courtroom in Hartford Monday for a hearing on an injunction filed last week by the Republican Party.

The party filed the lawsuit in response to a decision by Democrats to fund a pro-Malloy mail piece with money from its federal account, where the law permits state contractors to donate.

In a filing to federal regulators, SEEC has called the Democrats’ proposal to use federal funds in support Malloy a cynical attempt to circumvent state law. Republicans have sought to make the agency a party to their lawsuit. However, the state regulators resisted that motion Monday, arguing that they should decide the issue rather than the superior court.

“SEEC can not be a party in this case,” Deputy Attorney General Perry Zinn-Rowthorn told Judge Antonio Robaina. “It is the fair adjudicator of this complaint. If it were to participate, it would forever be tainted from ever fairly adjudicating this case.”

Sen. Len Fasano, a North Haven Republican who appeared in court with GOP lawyer Proloy K. Das, called SEEC’s position “mindboggling.” Fasano pointed to the regulators’ position in prior filings and advisory opinions, which have been critical of the Democrats’ position.

“Now, to sit there and bow out of the main dance, I’m very surprised,” Fasano told the court.

“The dance needs to happen over at the SEEC,” Zinn-Rowthorn said.

Republicans argued that it will be too late by the time the regulators take up the case. They asked Robaina to issue a temporary order, barring Democrats from spending money from their federal account on statewide races.

“We want a restraining order in place,” Das said. “We are less than two weeks away from an election. By delaying it, we continue to be further aggrieved.”

Zinn-Rowthorn said the agency had significant concerns about the case, but also said that barring the Democrats from spending money during the election raised First Amendment issues. He said the regulators needed to decide the case through its own process.

“If that’s too slow for Mr. Das, that’s unfortunate,” he said.

David S. Golub, an attorney for the Democratic Party, accused the Republicans of making wild accusations.

“Judge, this is just crazy talk,” he said at one point Monday morning.

Golub argued that the Democrats were required to pay for the mailer with federal funds because it contained get-out-the-vote information. He said Republicans were attempting to overturn federal election law through “courthouse press rhetoric.”

Golub rejected Republicans’ assertion that state contractor donations were used to help pay for the pro-Malloy mailer. He said contributions from contractors are segregated from the rest of the federal account.

“I want everybody to hear this—the Malloy campaign and the Democratic Party did not use state contractor funds to send out the mailer,” he said.

At the end of the day, Robaina denied Republicans’ motion to make the SEEC a party to their complaint and declined to issue a temporary restraining order against the Democrats and Malloy’s campaign.

The case will continue on Thursday. Early in Monday’s hearing, Robaina asked whether lawyers from both sides could make their case in five minutes.

“Not unless they want to agree to an injunction,” Das said.

“Not unless they want to agree to dismiss,” William Bloss, an attorney for Malloy’s campaign, responded.