Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dean vs. Courant

The Hartford Courant, where ink stained wretch Colin McEnroe parks his pen mightier than the sword, spiked his Sunday column on Martha Dean.

McEnroe understands completely. The Courant bars opinion pieces that appear after the first Sunday before an election, mostly for reasons of fairness. A target of an opinion printed a mere two days before election, in this case Dean, would not have sufficient time to answer any manifestly unjust criticisms within such a short time frame.

While McEnroe missed the bell, other political writers at the Courant, not one of whom has during the entire campaign written a commentary that might be considered favorable to Dean, were not so unfortunate, and there are some, Dean among them, who have reason to suspect that all opinions pouring fourth from the Courant concerning Dean are manifestly partisan.

In any case, McEnroe’s column very likely would have been redundant: The Courant already had endorsed Dean’s opponent, George Jepsen, and launched a broadside against a matter of some moment: A few days ago, after the Supreme Court had issued its written opinion on Susan Bysiewicz’s eligibility for the office of attorney general, Dean had filed a motion with the court contesting the eligibility of Jepsen.

Before I proceed, I must insert here a brief confession. I have written columns and blogs myself protesting the Bysiewicz decision. Connecticut’s Supreme Court may have been wrong when it ruled in the Bysiewicz case that a statute requiring prospective attorneys general to be an "attorney at law of at least ten years' active practice at the bar of this state" trumps the state constitution itself, which provides only an age qualification for the position. But the court has ruled, and that’s that.

The court in its recently published decision interpreted the statute, which specifies that prospective attorneys general must be “attorneys at law of at least ten years active practice at the bar of this state,” as indicating that the attorneys mentioned in the statute should be attorneys “with at least some experience litigating cases in court.” This line of interpretation alone is unclear on two points: The decision does not tell us how much experience is “some” nor what kind of experience would qualify a lawyer to be attorney general. The Bysiewicz ruling is fuzzy around the edges and soft in the middle – which means, the court and Connecticut could only benefit by yet another suit forcing it to clarify the inherent ambiguities in its decision.

Such a suit is precisely the one brought by Dean. And for that reason the suit should have been welcomed by all friends of justice who think laws and Supreme Court rulings should be general, clear and fair. The Hartford Courant, to judge by its editorial reproving Dean for bringing the suit, falls outside this category.

“Ms. Dean says Mr. Jepsen lacks experience as a litigator. She has asked that his name be removed from the ballot and that the secretary of the state be prohibited from certifying the attorney general's race until her lawsuit is resolved.” The editorial, printed four days before election and therefore within its own parameters, asks “Does she [Dean] have a case or is her lawsuit a desperate 11th-hour stunt?” And the paper, long before a decision is due from the court, precipitately decides that the suit is an 11th hour stunt.

McEnroe, incidentally, disagreed with the obiter dictum of his paper in an earlier blog post, placing much of the blame for Dean’s “precipitous” suit on the court: “I agree, by the way, that much of the fault lies with the Connecticut Supreme Court. The Court ruled from the bench in May in the case of Bysiewicz v. Dinardo. Then it waited an inexplicable five months to issue a full decision, which finally came Oct. 22, less than two weeks before the election. Come on, guys, get your homework in on time! The decision itself was so muddy as to make it at least understandable that Dean saw it as a potential wedge to game into Jepsen's candidacy.”

The paper raises two easily answered objections: 1) Dean was precipitate in bringing the suit so close to the election (see McEnroe above); 2) By so doing she has revealed herself as being motivated principally by politics.

It is impossible to shake this last charge. Both Dean and Jepsen are engaged in a political campaign, and it is at least reasonable to suppose that politicians so engaged do things for political reasons – in addition to other perhaps more compelling reasons. But the question opinion makers should be considering is not “Do politicians do things for political reasons,” but rather, “Is Dean’s suit necessary?

It is.
Post a Comment