Chief States Attorney Richard Colangelo Jr. testifying in January 2020 Credit: Lisa Backus

The Criminal Justice Commission has opened the application process for a new chief state’s attorney, a month after a hiring scandal connected to a federal school construction investigation forced Richard J. Colangelo Jr. to retire. 

The job posting on the Division of Criminal Justice website specifies that the candidate appointed to fill Colangelo’s term must be an attorney licensed in Connecticut with at least three years of experience. When the term expires on June 30, 2025, the chief state’s attorney can be reappointed for a five-year term to the $191,408 salaried position. 

The announcement comes as legislators are wrestling with SB 307, which would increase prosecutorial accountability through a more detailed data review process. The bill also seeks to remove the commission from the Division of Criminal Justice headed by the Chief State’s Attorney, to the state Office of Policy and Management.

The commission, which appoints all state’s attorneys, two deputy chief state’s attorneys and the newly created inspector general, gets its administrative staff from the Division of Criminal Justice but it has no operating budget to speak of.

At an annual budget of $409, there will be no advertising of the Chief State’s Attorney’s position and no national search for a candidate, said the commission’s chairman, Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald. “There’s no money for an ad anywhere,” said McDonald who hopes that the media will spread the word.

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

Colangelo was originally appointed on Jan. 30, 2020, to finish the term of retiring Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, one of the longest-serving employees of the division. Colangelo was reappointed in June 2021 to his own five-year term.

By that point, according to an independent investigation ordered by Gov. Ned Lamont, Colangelo was already involved in hiring the daughter of an OPM deputy commissioner in what appears to be an attempt to leverage raises for himself and other state’s attorneys.

Colangelo submitted his retirement on Feb. 9, just as the commission was meeting to discuss how to proceed with an investigation into the allegations and his possible removal from the position. Commission member Scott Murphy, a former state’s attorney, noted in a statement following the meeting that the process to remove Colangelo likely would have continued beyond his March 31 retirement date.

Since then, Colangelo has not been allowed to review prosecutions and has not appeared before legislators to discuss the agency’s budget request for the next few years. Deputy Chief State’s Attorney John Russotto is acting Chief State’s Attorney until a replacement can be appointed.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut called for the commission to be removed from the Division of Criminal Justice, citing a need for more independence and a heftier budget so that the body could investigate prosecutorial wrongdoing.

The prosecutorial accountability bill proposes wider independence for the commission by making it a stand-alone body within the executive branch, giving the commission the power to discipline and suspend chief state’s attorneys and making sure the commission has adequate funding to conduct investigations and appoint state’s attorneys.

“Their operating budget is abysmal,” Claudine Fox, public policy and advocacy director for the CT ACLU, said in February. “They can’t do any meaningful independent investigations and aren’t meaningfully independent in their resources from the Division of Criminal Justice.”

The bill also calls for the same data collection required by prosecutors from the newly formed Office of the Inspector General which investigates deadly use of police force incidents and in-custody deaths.

A prosecutorial accountability law passed in 2019 required the Division of Criminal Justice and OPM’s Criminal Justice arm to collect demographic data on arrests and sentencing by 2021 to issue reports to the legislature.

The CT ACLU also wants the commission to evaluate the performance of state’s attorney’s every two years based on data already being collected. It seeks additional training for prosecutors on racial bias, collateral consequences, sentencing alternatives, mental illness, trauma and re-entry after prison and a comprehensive review by a task force to analyze criminal justice systems to make sure that uniform policies are followed.

The Division of Criminal Justice staunchly opposes the move, said New Britain State’s Attorney Brian Preleski during a public hearing Wednesday, saying that nearly every section bill would make their job harder.

“We, the thirteen appointed state’s attorneys, oppose Raised Bill 307 because it strips the Criminal Justice Commission of its independence, reduces the independence of prosecutors, imposes absurd, nonsensical standards on Connecticut’s prosecutors, and likely violates existing collective bargaining agreements,” the prosecutors said in written testimony.