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Bysiewicz tripped by technicality

Susan Bysiewicz was a 14-year-old Middletown girl who found a hero and role model when Ella Grasso became the first woman elected governor of a state on her own. There had been previous female governors but they had been mostly sentimental choices, elected after their husbands had served or, more helpfully, died in office.

At Yale, a few years later, Bysiewicz made Grasso the subject of her senior project and expanded the paper into a Grasso biography while in law school. And from the time she was elected state representative in 1992, it was thought that Bysiewicz’s goal was to be the governor of Connecticut, just like Ella. When she was elected secretary of the state, just like Ella, there was no doubt.

Now she says she really wants to be attorney general, just like Dick, as in Blumenthal, who has been attorney general forever and declined several chances to run for governor as he waited for a U.S. Senate opening to come along.

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That Bysiewicz was a front-runner in the polls for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination when she decided she really wanted to be attorney general added to the drama because after 24 years of losing races for governor, many in the party think this is the year the Democrats would finally win.

But becoming governor of a state facing financial calamities with a Legislature controlled by your own party isn’t the best political move an ambitious public servant might make. So Susan chose to emulate Dick instead of Ella and wait for a Senate job opening. It seemed like a good plan, except for one little problem.

Days after she flipped offices, doubts were raised about a rather important matter, whether or not Bysiewicz had enough lawyering in her background to become the state’s chief legal officer. This pertinent question was uncovered by a blogger, Ryan McKeen, a lawyer who conducts a Web site known as A Connecticut Law Blog — not by a newspaper or television station, but that’s another story.

According to Connecticut General Statute 3-124, “The attorney general shall be an elector of this state and an attorney at law of at least 10 years’ active practice at the bar of this state.†Although Bysiewicz’s people called the statute vague, it sounds pretty clear.

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Also clear is the secretary of the state’s legal resume, which shows she was an attorney at Robinson & Cole in Hartford for four years, an attorney at Aetna for two years and an attorney at a New York law firm for two years. This adds up to eight years if a Superior Court judge counts working in New York to have been “active practice at the bar of this state,†should some spoilsport take this issue to court. If the judge doesn’t think Manhattan is part of the Connecticut bar, it’s just six.

But even eight years aren’t 10 years, so the Bysiewicz camp has sought to add her service as secretary of the state as additional legal practice because she supervises lawyers on her staff.

This would be a good argument if the secretaries of the state in the recent past had been lawyers, but most, including Ella, were not and they supervised lawyers, too.

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Two other Democrats running for attorney general, former legislative leader George Jepsen and state Rep. Cameron Staples, were among the first to be shocked, yes shocked, that Bysiewicz is at best two years short of the minimum legal experience required for the job.

Jepsen has also sought to make things difficult by accusing her of really wanting to be, not an attorney general like Dick or a governor like Ella, but a senator like Joe as in Lieberman. He said Bysiewicz is only using the AG’s job as a stepping stone to the Senate in 2012 and pledged that if elected, he would serve his full term and therefore be unavailable for higher elected office until 2014.

This is an easy promise to make if your chances of being the Democratic nominee for senator in 2012 run the gamut from none to slender.

All this recalls1960, when the newly elected president, John Kennedy, named his brother, Robert, attorney general. This displeased The New York Times, among others, because young Bobby, a former counsel for two Senate committees, had no experience in any state or federal courtroom.

“I can’t see that it’s wrong to give him a little legal experience before he goes out to practice law,†the president-elect joked and Robert Kennedy was quickly and easily confirmed by the Senate.

Somebody needs to make a good joke for Susan.

Dick Ahles is a retired journalist from Simsbury. E-mail him at dahles@hotmail.com.

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