Monday, September 30, 2013

Connecticut, The One Party State Of Secrecy And The Cloud Of Unknowing

Danbury State Attorney Stephen Sedensky, the keeper of the Sandy Hook secrets, has so far had a fairly easy time of it, but disquieting murmurs rend the air.

The Associated Press (AP) last July petitioned Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) to order the release of 911 tapes made during the mass shooting of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The commission found – surprise! – that such information could not be withheld from the public merely because Mr. Sedensky asserted a criminal investigation was ongoing.


Not good enough, said the commission. Statutes do allow prosecutors to withhold 911 tapes, as well as other evidence, if charges are pending and a trial may be in the offing. Obviously, the premature release of information may adversely impact a prosecution and trial. The commission noted, however, that such was not the case in the Sandy Hook massacre. Much to the dismay of multiple parties whose political interests might be advanced by the withholding of all formally certified information relating to Sandy Hook, the FOI commission ordered the release of the 911 tapes because -- no trial was pending, virtually all of the direct witnesses to the crime were slain in the slaughter, and the release of such hard verifiable information was both routine in such cases and necessary for the advancement of the public good.

"In essence,” the FOIC noted in its decision, “the respondents' position is that the … records, as part of an ongoing criminal investigation where it is not yet known if a prosecution will ensue, are not required to be disclosed. However, the Appellate Court explicitly rejected this very argument."

Mr. Sedensky is appealing the FOIC decision. While it is true that Mr. Sedensky is running afoul of the governing statute in refusing to disclose the 911 calls, it is also true that the calls, and perhaps other releasable information, may be kept in the freezer until Mr. Sedensky exhausts his appeals. No one knows for certain what is driving the secrecy.

In a less than stinging rebuke, a Hartford paper urged the release of the tapes and noted, ominously, that “Connecticut’s FOI Act is being chipped away by the governor and the General Assembly.”

Indeed, Mr. Sedensky’s effort to draw a veil of secrecy around routinely released information is simply one among many efforts during the reign of Governor Dannel Malloy, once a prosecutor himself, to smother inconvenient data under a blanket of secrecy. The temptation to secrecy becomes more and more irresistible as Connecticut drifts further and further in the direction of a one party state.

The gun bill passed by the Connecticut Democratic dominated General Assembly should have relied on the unimpeachable evidence flowing from the release of the state’s twice delayed criminal report. It should be noted here that Republican leaders eagerly embraced the gun legislation produced by a General Assembly perfectly willing to develop legislation grounded in best guesses and surmises. The final gun bill was not presented at public hearing, during the course of which experts on guns, crime and punishment might have shaped the legislation. 

Mr. Malloy, the first Democratic governor in more than two decades, wrote his first budget without any input from the opposition Republican Party. Republicans were simply shooed away from the budget negotiating table, while Mr. Malloy, who had been invested with near plenipotentiary powers by the Democratic dominated General Assembly, negotiated back room deals with union leaders, who had become in effect Connecticut’s fourth branch of government. The reporter-proof, secretive back room negotiating sessions permitted Malloyalists to present the state with a fait accompli budget that included – no surprise here – the largest tax increase in state history, a spending and revenue plan that in effect made Mr. Malloy the state’s chief crony capitalist, and questionable “savings” that were more than offset by multiple year increases in union benefits and salaries.

A penological program developed by Mike Lawlor that rewards with early release credits prisoners who behave well while in prison was smuggled past critical legislators in an omnibus implementer bill. The benefits of the program were applied retrospectively to prisoners who were not subject to the supposed rehabilitative aspects of the program, and early release credits were given to violent criminals, one of whom, Frankie “The Razor” Resto, managed to acquire an illegal firearm he used to murder a storekeeper in Meriden, Connecticut. Michelle Cruz, then Connecticut’s Victims Advocate, spoke out publically against Mr. Lawlor’s poorly drafted, poorly executed program. Ms. Cruz’s job was then put on the auction block. Mr. Lawlor’s program still allows violent criminals such as rapists to avail themselves of early release credits.

Without strenuous objections from the new, more malleable Victims Advocate, Garvin Ambrose, the Malloy administration arranged a plea deal with “The Razor” -- so called because as a gang-banger he used to shake down drug dealers with a razor – without allowing the family members of his victim to testify on the Lawlor-Malloy-Resto deal. The deal makers certainly were audacious: Statutes give the victims of violent criminals the right to testify in such cases.

These are the actions of politicians who are certain no one is looking over their shoulder. And why should they worry? The media, after all, cannot crash the political back rooms in which policy is made secretly with little public input. And in the one party state, all opposition from the party out of power may be safely disregarded. The reigning assumption among the power brokers is that people will not notice the bitter fruits of the one party state until the whole state of Connecticut comes to resemble Bridgeport or New Haven or Hartford, at which point all forward progress will be irreversible.


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