Friday, September 02, 2011

The Skeletons In Blumenthal’s Closet

Very quietly – much too quietly – Attorney General George Jepsen has closed “513 of the 699 whistleblower cases he inherited from his predecessor, former Attorney general Richard Blumenthal, according to a storycirculated by The Associated Press (AP) and published in the Washington Post.

During his campaign for Attorney General, Mr. Jepsen was pressed by Republican candidate for attorney general Martha Dean quickly dispose of cases handled by Mr. Blumenthal during his 20 year tenure. Mrs. Dean ran for attorney general twice, once against the popular Mr. Blumenthal in 2002 and again in 2010. In the course of the Jepsen-Dean debates, Mr. Jepsen seemed particularly sensitive to delays in resolving such cases, and Mrs. Dean was insistent that, should she be selected as attorney general, she would immediately institute a review of Mr. Blumenthal’s crippling backlog and close cases that never should have been prosecuted, tendering apologies to those of Mr. Blumenthal’s litigation victims who were left for years to hang on hooks in the attorney general’s own private torture chambers.  A good many of Mr. Blumenthal’s suits against persons and companies were left unresolved after more than four years of litigation.

 
In virtually all his prosecutions, Mr. Blumenthal sent out press releases to most, if not all, Connecticut media outlets. The recipient of one of Mr. Blumenthal’s press releases dutifully would advertise the prosecution, occasionally printing the releases almost verbatim, as well as subsequent releases relating to the case at most stages of a long and tortuous litigation process. National outlets were also inundated with media releases that, we now discover, were unnecessarily destructive to 513 of Mr. Blumenthal’s targets.
Unfortunately, not as many news outlets as have printed press releases relating to the cases closed by Mr. Jepsen will print follow up stories concerning the vindication of the victims of Mr. Blumenthal’s unnecessary prosecutions.

Mr. Jepsen, who told the AP in an interview that many of the probes he dismissed “lacked merit,” is to be congratulated for having acted so expeditiously in his review. The number of cases dismissed in which “something meaningfully wrong is going on,” Mr. Jepsen told the AP, was small.

Matt O’Connor of SEBAC, a coalition of state employee unions, remarked that he could not recall “such a large number of whistleblower cases being closed. But because allegations of fraud or shoddy work by government agencies and contractors are protected from public release, he said there’s no way to know why Jepsen acted.”

Jepsen said he terminated several probes of companies and organizations, according to the AP report, “because he and the companies settled the dispute ‘or it may be that there’s not very much there.’”

 
Mr. Jepsen warned that public officials should tread carefully in those cases in which the regulation of business and job creation was at stake and invited a comparison between himself and Mr. Blumenthal. He said of himself, “I’m a pretty low-key person. I like to see all sides of an issue before I jump in. My background academically and professionally and politically is non-confrontational. We do plenty of litigation here but I just generally view litigation ought to be as a last resort.”
Jepsen noted that he “has been a political ally of Blumenthal’s for decades, even working as an intern for Blumenthal in 1979, and that any contrast between the two is ‘really more my own style and background’ than it is about policy differences,” according to the AP report.

Mr. Blumenthal responded to the implied charges of incompetence in the AOP story with a mixture of injured innocence and chutzpah.

Refusing to comment decision made by his successor, Mr. Blumenthal said he kept cases open even though they were not active because, according to the AOP story, “important information could always develop later. He said he had no knowledge of which cases were closed and declined to comment on differences between his and Jepsen’s approaches to the job.”

Mr. Blumenthal -- who used his accomplishments as attorney general as a springboard to higher office as a Democratic U.S. Senator – told the AP “I would say very emphatically my record speaks for itself, for my aggressive and proactive approach to law enforcement to protect business people, consumers, all the people of Connecticut.”

The AP, the recipient of thousands of Blumenthal press releases over the years, noted in its story that Mr. Jepsen’s approach “is a marked contrast to Blumenthal, who was elected to the U.S. Senate last year after 20 years as attorney general. Blumenthal sued numerous companies over allegations of consumer rip-offs, illegal dumping and violations of workers’ rights in the name of agencies such as the Department of Consumer Protection and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.”

At some point – one hopes against hope – Mr. Jepsen will post on the attorney general’s website a list of the 315 cases Mr. Blumenthal improperly prosecuted as attorney general by case name and docket number so that journalists in the state may review then in the light of Mr. Jepsen’s review and dismissals.

In connection with one case settled after much litigation, Connecticut Commentary noted that Mr. Blumenthal had been much in the habit of hanging his victims on litigation hooks for long periods of time, during which they became progressively poorer as their reputation were battered by Mr. Blumenthal’s artfully worded press releases. Those who relied on Mr. Blumenthal’s many releases, one likes to think, have some obligation in restoring the reputation and public standing of those who – in 513 of the 699 whistleblower cases Mr. Blumenthal litigated – were innocent as charged. A legislative review of the cases dismissed by Mr. Jepsen, with a view to establishing a less personalized method of prosecuting cases in the attorney general's office, would not be out of order.     
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