After the retirement of Chief State’s Attorney Richard J. Colangelo, Jr. Feb. 9 amid a hiring scandal, legislators are considering a proposed law that would give the Criminal Justice Commission the power to discipline the state’s top prosecutor.
Currently, the commission which appoints all prosecutors only has the ability to terminate a Chief State’s Attorney, Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said. Stafstrom co-chairs the Judiciary Committee which received the recommendation from state Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald last week. McDonald chairs the Criminal Justice Commission.
“The Criminal Justice Commission’s only oversight for a Chief State’s Attorney is removal,” Stafstrom said. “There is no lesser offense. If there was conduct that may rise to the level of public censure or suspension, they don’t have the ability to do that.”
Under the proposed bill, HB 5499, the current law would be changed to allow the commission to discipline, including a suspension with or without pay, or terminate a Chief State’s Attorney after a finding of misconduct has been made.
The bill would also bar any prosecutor from holding state or municipal elected office to prevent any type of political influence, Stafstrom said. Prosecutors would be able to serve on local boards and commissions if they are appointed, he said. “They should not be running for state office or elected office of any kind,” Stafstrom said.
Colangelo retired before the commission could conduct a hearing that members contended would have led to his termination. His actions came into question after he hired the daughter of state Office of Policy and Management Deputy Commissioner Kosta Diamantis as he was pressing the agency for raises for himself and other prosecutors.
Diamantis is a person of interest in a federal investigation for his activities as the head of state’s school construction grant program. He retired in October as he was about to be placed on leave.
Gov. Ned Lamont “was disturbed” by the findings of an independent investigation into the scandal and asked McDonald as the chair of the commission to consider whether any policy or statutory changes needed to be made to prevent a similar situation in the future.
McDonald sent the commission’s response to Lamont’s request last week. It included a proposal to allow the commission to discipline the Chief State’s Attorney, rather than just terminate or take no action and prohibit prosecutors from running for elected office.
He also recommended expanding the “ethical paradigm” for prosecutors by utilizing federal guidelines. McDonald also suggested and that the Division of Criminal Justice hire an ethics officer to act as an internal resource.
The incident will have a far-reaching effect on the Division of Criminal Justice which prosecutes all criminal cases for months, and possibly years, McDonald said. The commission is in the process of hiring a new Chief State’s Attorney who will be involved in reviewing Division of Criminal Justice policies on hiring new employees and providing ongoing ethics training in conflicts of interest and improper use of office issues, McDonald said in the letter.
“The Commission believes that the input of the new Chief State’s Attorney will be critical in determining what changes to these policies are appropriate in restoring public confidence in the integrity of the Division,” he said.
The Judiciary Committee will be considering the bill along with another piece of proposed legislation that would put the commission in the Office of Policy and Management for administrative purposes.
Advocates are seeking more independence for the commission including its own budget so the members can conduct investigations into prosecutorial wrongdoing.
The commission’s $409 budget will not support a national search for a new Chief State’s Attorney, McDonald said a few weeks ago.
The Judiciary Committee will look at both bills and consider what will move forward to the next step of the legislative process, Stafstrom said.