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

After a hiring scandal that led to the retirement of the Chief State’s Attorney, the Judiciary Committee approved two bills last week that will make sweeping changes in the way prosecutors are trained, overseen and reviewed.

The version of SB 307 will shorten the length of appointment for state’s attorneys who prosecute cases in 13 judicial districts from eight years to five years and require the state Office of Governmental Accountability to provide the administrative function for the state’s Criminal Justice Commission which hires, fires and disciplines prosecutors including the Chief State’s Attorney.

The bill also adds language that will allow the Criminal Justice Commission to discipline Chief State’s Attorneys for up to a 15-day suspension without pay, requires the state’s Criminal Justice Advisory Board to draft policies to increase efficiency and fairness and eliminate bias in all judicial districts and requires the Chief State’s Attorney to provide training in bias, collateral consequences of arrest, the role mental health and trauma have on behavior and other areas.

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HB 5499 which also was approved Thursday prohibits prosecutors from holding elected office or practicing law outside of their duties within the state’s Division of Criminal Justice and allowed the Criminal Justice Commission to discipline Chief State’s Attorneys with up to a 15-day suspension.

Some of the changes were based on recommendations of the Criminal Justice Commission which accepted the retirement of Chief State’s Attorney Richard J. Colangelo Jr., on Feb. 9 as the body was seeking to conduct an investigation into a hiring scandal within his office.

But Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, called the legislation “anti-police” and “anti-prosecutor” before announcing he would be voting against it. “At some point there’s got to be accountability,” Fishbein said of the portion of the bill that required several agencies to collect data on arrests, diversionary programs and plea agreements. “People just don’t get up and get arrested because they woke up or left the house, they got arrested because they committed a crime.”

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Fishbein and 15 other Republicans voted against SB 307 which passed with 23 votes. The bill will now go to the Senate for debate. Fishbein joined nearly every other Judiciary Committee member in voting in favor of HB 5499. That bill will go to the House.

Under current state law, the Criminal Justice Commission can only terminate a Chief State’s Attorney after a lengthy process that includes an investigation and a hearing. The Division of Criminal Justice provides the administrative function for the Criminal Justice Commission, which has no budget to speak of and no staff.

SB 307 would place the administrative function for the commission with the Office of Governmental Accountability which would also have additional duties to provide performance reports on all judicial districts based on a wide array of demographic and sentencing data compiled by the Division of Criminal Justice, the Judicial Branch, the state Department of Correction and the state’s Criminal Justice Information Sharing Governing Board.

The data will include information on arrests, arraignments, diversionary programs, the number of people who complete diversionary programs, the number of plea agreements and demographic data on defendants.

The policy recommendations drafted by the Criminal Justice Advisory Committee would be given to the Judiciary Committee for review and action, said Judiciary Committee Co-Chair Gary Winfield, D-New Haven. “I want to be clear that the policy recommendations will be coming to the elected body,” Winfield 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 now under 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.

SB 307 requires the Chief State’s Attorney to provide extensive training in a number of areas including on bias in prosecution and ethics.

The Criminal Justice Commission is in the process of hiring a new Chief State’s Attorney. Commission chair state Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald told Gov. Ned Lamont in a letter providing recommendations on how to prevent future conflicts of interests within the Division of Criminal Justice that the next Chief State’s Attorney needed to stress ethics policies among staff.

“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,” McDonald said in the letter.