A splendidly written and researched story in Sunday’s Harford Courant by Josh Kovner and Jon Lender, demonstrates that the state’s attorney’s general office has become a money operation more interested in cash than justice.
The story calls into question a case prosecuted by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, sometimes mentioned in press reports as a desirable Democratic candidate for governor or U.S. senator.
The owners of a Brookfield quarry, Rock Acquisition Limited Partnership, convinced their property had been undervalued by two appraisers, the last hired by Blumenthal, took their case to court and were fortunate enough to have the issue decided by Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Sheedy, who was attentive to the facts of the case.
Here are the facts:
1) The quarry owners questioned an appraisal of their property, taken by the state to allow the construction of a Route 7 highway bypass near Brookfield that opened last month. The owners thought their property was worth $20-$25 million. The state, which took the property though eminent domain, valued the 125 acre property at $4.1 million. The owners sued to recover the balance.
2) Enter Blumenthal, whose office shopped around for another appraiser, Kenneth Jones – who low-priced the property at $2.3 million, about one tenth of the value placed by the owner’s on their property and a savings for the state of $1.8 million. According to the Courant story, “Jones seemed to be just what officials desired when they hurriedly went expert-shopping in 2007 to defend the DOT's previous decisions in appraising the quarry.”
Assistant Attorney General Carol Young was pleased with the choice. She wrote in a September 2007 e-mail to Richard Allen, head of right-of-way acquisitions for the state DOT, “I think that he is the quarry expert that we need on this matter.”
Jones had valued a similar sized property in New Jersey at $47.5 million, although that property, unlike the undervalued Brookfield property, came outfitted with an illegal dump laced with asbestos debris.
3) At trial, Judge Sheedy, examining what the paper later called “the checkered background” of Jones -- handsomely paid $240,000 in fees and expenses for his defective appraisal -- fairly gagged, and Blumenthal lost the case. The state will now be forced to cough up $28 million to satisfy Rock Acquisition Limited Partnership, as well as the judge who, refreshingly, was committed to securing justice for one of Blumenthal’s victims and far less interested in making money for the state than Blumenthal’s greedy operatives.
This is not the first time that Blumenthal has used both the media and resources at his disposal to make money for Connecticut.
In the notorious Hoffman case, Blumenthal’s office submitted a fatally defective affidavit to a judge to secure an exparte attachment of assets. Among the assets he seized were those of the husband of the person he was prosecuting, and compelling evidence has been provided in that case to show that the husband’s business was not connected to his wife’s. In another case now wending its way through the courts, Blumenthal seized the business machinery of a wood pellet supplier by virtue of yet another defective affidavit. The affiant in that case, an inspector in Blumenthal’s office, later admitted in discovery that he was not a direct witness of any of the matters reported in his affidavit. And there is compelling sworn witness testimony in that case to show that the company sued by Blumenthal may have been subject to a shakedown initiated by the pellet company’s supplier. Blumenthal, in other words, may have prosecuted the wrong business. The distress caused by Blumenthal’s botched prosecution resulted in an attempted suicide by one of the company's partners, the seizure of whose business assets, accomplished by the defective affidavit, made it impossible for him to supply his customers with the promised goods he was frantically scrambling to buy from another resource.
Unfortunately, the media’s unquestioned acceptance of Blumenthal’s press releases – and, more importantly, its failure to report sufficiently on the after effects of his prosecutions – make the media Blumenthal’s principle enabler.
The Courant’s follow-up report on the questionable methods used by Blumenthal to secure easy convictions and negotiated settlements is a refreshing and hopeful sign that Blumenthal’s press release claims will in the future be subject to more careful and comprehensive media scrutiny.