Saturday, April 10, 2010

Blumenthal, Good For Business?

"To blame law enforcement for unemployment,” said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal at a forum sponsored by some of the companies and industries he has sued, “is beyond wrong, it's silly and shouldn't be given any credibility. In fact it is a disservice to public service itself and to the law-abiding, hard-working business people.”

The report from which the above quote is taken does not disclose the reaction from those in the audience to Blumenthal’s remarks, some of whom work for companies sued by Blumenthal.

At an earlier debate with Democratic opponent Merrick Alpert, Blumenthal answered a charge that his many suits have had a deleterious impact on Connecticut’s job growth by charging that, on the contrary, they enhanced business activity and actually created jobs.

This time, at a forum sponsored by some of Connecticut’s major companies, Blumenthal’s response was more polished and carefully modulated.

Almost all business, Blumenthal said, have nothing to fear from law enforcement:

"My job has been to enforce the law. What I'm hearing from this table is a philosophy of law enforcement that Bernie Madoff would love. We've just come through a period where lack of enforcement by the federal government enabled and encouraged one of the greatest economic catastrophes in our nation's history."
Not only do honest businesses follow the law, “they welcome the level playing field that strong law enforcement provides to every one of them," Blumenthal said. "They do not want to be out-competed and underbid by law breakers who save costs on the backs of our consumers or our hard-working men and women."

Actually, Blumenthal’s job is to defend state agencies in legal matters. The attorney general’s office was transformed from this rather modest purpose during the administration of then Attorney General Joe Lieberman, now a U.S. Senator, who advertised himself as the people’s lawyer. That job spec has been considerably enlarged by Blumenthal, under whose direction the hundreds of lawyers who work for him several years ago focused on a target in East Hartford, a computer business that supplied equipment for the state, quickly putting the business out of business.

During the forum, Alpert charged that Blumenthal had deliberately attempted to destroy a small business, Computer Plus Center, by means of a suit charging that the company had defrauded the state.

The owner was not Bernie Madoff, nor was the business as large as some of the corporations sued by Blumenthal whose representatives in the audience heard the attorney general say, by way of answer to a failed suit that may cost the state $18 million, “mistakes were made in that case.”

Who made the mistakes? This would have been the obvious question for anyone on the dais to put to Blumenthal.

A jury had determined that litigators working for the attorney general had improperly sued a company. Did the jury make the mistakes? Were the mistakes made by the prosecuting attorney who permitted the jury to see a discredited affidavit on the basis of which Blumenthal secured an ex parte judgment against the company that permitted him to effectively put Computer Plus Center out of business?

Blumenthal evidently did not agree that the jury finding and its multimillion dollar award provided justice in the case, thereby leveling the playing field for other litigation shy companies that might, in view of the jury’s finding, feel a trifle less cautious in moving into a state in which the attorney general has sued more than 800 companies in the last four years, many of them small Main Street rather than Wall Street businesses.

Instead, Blumenthal promised more litigation, boasted that the state had not paid out a dime and said he expected the award to be reversed on appeal, which may stretch the litigation well beyond the upcoming elections.

Blumenthal is expected to be nominated for the seat in the U.S. Senate left vacant upon U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd’s retirement. He has a commanding lead in the polls over his Republican challengers.

With more than a hundred lawyers at your back, though only a few of them litigate cases, company owners far less wealthy than Madoff eventually collapse under the litigation pressure and settle for deals that might have been struck before Blumenthal’s questionable legal badgering began.

Blumenthal is fond of saying that his office brings in more money to the state -- none of it audited regularly by outside inspectors -- than is spent by his office. But this rude calculus does not tally the amount of money lost to the state though attrition. The jury award to Computer Plus Center is an alarm bell ringing in the night: Given the awesome powers marshaled by the attorney general’s office, what business more comfortably situated in states with less aggressive attorneys general would want to set up shop in suit prone Connecticut?
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