Monday, August 22, 2005

Prague, McDonald and the “Koskoff Clause”

Even after the Rowland corruption scandal, life goes on. But sensitive noses have detected the odor of fish in the air, and an amendment to Senate Bill 956 seems to give off a radiant glow, like the proverbial mackerel in moonlight.

Two writers at the Hartford Advocate – a paper not known for its conservative leanings; see Alan Bisport’s frequent eruptions on the moronic and possibly traitorous Bush II regime – have zeroed in on the legislation and found it wanting.

The amendment, the brainchild of liberal state senators Edith Prague and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Andrew McDonald, is a gerrymandered piece of legislation, slipped surreptitiously into a bill extending compensation for prison workers to account for times when they travel to and from their jobs, and cunningly designed to benefit only one constituent – as well as a law firm that has contributed to the campaigns of both obliging legislators.

The genesis of the bill’s subsection, signed into law by a somnambulant Gov. Jodi Rell in the beginning of July, begins with the death of Guenther Kuehl in a car accident. Kuehl’s widow, Sylvia, hired the prestigious and politically connected law firm of Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder to represent her interests, but her attorneys neglected to tell her that she would have been eligible for workers compensation had she applied within a year of her husband’s demise.

So, the widow did what any other aggrieved client might do in such straights: She hired another law firm to sue Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder for legal malpractice. Sylvia Kuehl and her new lawyers thought her discharged attorneys should have told her to file a workers compensation claim within the specified time period, so that she could acquire the benefits due her under the law.

Enter Prague and McDonald, clutching in their fists the amendment to Bill 959.

Alistair Highet, an Advocate columnist, writes that the subsection’s verbiage “will make you want to abandon language forever in favor of grunts and groans,” and he supplies a specimen.

A person who was barred from filing a worker’s comp claim for an employee “whose date of injury was between November 1, 1992 and November 30, 1992, because of the failure of the dependent to timely file a separate death benefit claim, shall be allowed to file a written notice of claim for compensation not later than one year after the date of this section.” The unnamed “person” mentioned in the bill’s subsection would appear to be Kuehl and, as the rather precise language of the bill would seem to suggest, no one else on planet earth.

The amendment that effectively gives Kuehl a second bite of the compensation apple was necessary because Connecticut’s Supreme Court had decided that the one year limit on compensation claims was legal and reasonable. The amended subsection of Bill 959 is inherently unjust, because justice in the application of the law requires that laws themselves should be general. Free and representative societies since the time of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill have regarded as inadmissible specific orders and prohibitions, which are incompatible with the rule of law.

Not only does the amendment provide to Kuehl compensation that the Supreme Court has decided was not due to her, the Prague-McDonald amendment also renders moot Kuehl’s lawsuit against Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder.

And here, in the post Rowland era, when politicians are supposed to have acquired a new sensitivity to possible conflicts of interest, difficulties arise.

The Koskoff family is solidly connected to the Democratic Party – Charlotte Koskoff ran against U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson in 1996 and came within a whisker of beating her – and members of the firm and family have generously contributed to specific politicians, among whom are Prague and McDonald, authors of what Highet calls “the Koskoff Clause.”

In a report that preceded Highet’s column, the Advocate disclosed that “Michael Koskoff and his colleagues together gave at least $1,150 to Sen. McDonald's campaign and $2,500 to Leadership in Action, a political action committee that receives contributions primarily from lawyers. It gave $5,000 to Prague's campaign last year… In addition, Michael Koskoff and other members of the firm have headed or served in various positions at the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, which endorsed the Senate bill that helps Rosalind Koskoff. They regularly give money to the association's PAC, which donates widely to candidates. In September the PAC gave $1,000 to McDonald's campaign — he is a trial lawyer and association member — and has donated to Prague in the past.”

McDonald claims that he did not know the people who were so generous to him in the past were being sued when he authored the “Koskoff Clause.” And Prague, unsparing in her condemnations of “that bum Rowland,” has been unusually silent on the question of conflicts of interest these days.

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