Monday, February 07, 2011

Citizen Advisory Ethics Board, Plategate And Dickman

Kevin Rennie, a blogger and Hartford Courant columnists, has been ruled out of order by Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy after Mr. Rennie published the names of Friends Of Jodi Rell who received low number license plates. Among the beneficiaries of Mrs. Rell’s largess was “Charles F. Chiusano, a member of the state’s Citizen Advisory Ethic’s Board, registered ‘872’ on December 21st,” according to Mr. Rennie.

Mr. Rennie requested the information from Roy Occhiogrosso, Gov. Dannel Malloy’s communications chief, who passed along the request to Malloy Chief of Staff Tim Bannon, who then queried the Department of Motor Vehicles, which routed the names back to Mr. Bannon, who then passed along the information to Mr. Occhiogrosso, who passed along the information to Mr. Rennie, apparently without scrutinizing the list or asking the gate keeper lawyer for the Malloy administration, Andrew McDonald, whether the release of such information was legal. Mr. Rennie, Mr. Bannon and Mr. McDonald, previously one of the co-chairmen of the Judiciary Committee, are all lawyers, as is the governor. There are some indications in the media that the illegal release of such information may develop into the usual mucky fuss, now provisionally being called "Plategate.”

The whole episode is summed up concisely in Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity,” including vanity plate numbers.

It has been said by Mr. Rennie that members of the state’s new ethics board should not have been on the receiving end of favors conferred upon them by the executive department because status gifts of this sort represent a conflict of interests, which is true enough.

But barely a week ago, the ethics board sought to violate the interests of virtually every reporter in the state, and yet only Alex Wood of the Journal Inquirer set himself at odds with a board that had attempted to carve out for itself an exception to Freedom of Information laws wide enough to allow passage for all the enemies of transparency and good government in the state.

In the course of an unheard of nine day trial involving Pricilla Dickman, the new ethics board – its older version self destructed -- retreated to a smokeless filled back room before deciding Ms. Dickman’s fate, made no record of its secret proceedings, and later responded to a Freedom of Information request from Mr. Wood and the Journal Inquirer by arguing that the board need not comply with the Freedom of Information law because a superintending judge had allowed the secret meeting.

In other words, the ethics board had subverted the Freedom of Information Law by arguing that the presence of a judge as an advisor to the proceedings rendered it above the law. The Freedom of Information Commission, unwilling to preside over the utter destruction of the statue that called it into being, naturally disagreed and found in favor of Ms. Dickman and the Journal Inquirer – without deciding that the violation of the law rendered the ethics board judgment in the Dickman case invalid.

As a matter of fact, the decision undisturbed by the finding of the Freedom of Information commission is invalid, according to Ms. Dickman’s lawyers, because the board did not have a quorum when it decided her issue in favor of her employer, the UConn Medical Center (UCMC).

Ms. Dickman’s case is one of the oldest of its kind in Connecticut’s history, and the UCMC, short of funds as always, had better hope that journalists in Connecticut continue in their indifference to it. Ironically, the Dickman case may well survive the UConn Medical Center.

The case revolves around imperfect and questionable evidence provided by a medical center “investigator” to the attorney general’s office, which passed along the information to the ethics board for disposition and the chief state’s attorney for prosecution.

Ms. Dickman so far has endured 95 hearings of one sort or another, at considerable expense to the state. The ethics hearing is but the tip of an iceberg a careful examination of which by journalists would lead to condemnations of the whole alphabet soup of agencies that have been persecuting Ms. Dickman for six harrowing years. So far, she has held out against everyone very nearly alone, much in the manner of a Connecticut Dreyfus awaiting an Emile Zola to lay her cause before the public.

A more detailed account of the Dickman case may be found at the Connecticut Commentary blog: “Blumenthal, The UConn Heath Center: Defending The Indefensible."
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