Friday, March 5, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing. Is Susan Bysiewicz Qualified to Be Connecticut's Next Attorney General?

In his play Richelieu, English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword.” In one form or another, it is an old adage that has proven true throughout the ages. For Euripides it was “the tongue is mightier than the blade.” Hamlet’s Rosencrantz surmised that "many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose quills." Even Napoleon felt that “hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”

Whether it is the tap of goose quills or computer keyboards, the written word can be a powerful tool. For those that practice law, it is something that is known all too well. In my home state, followers of Connecticut politics were reminded of that power through blogger Ryan McKeen. Susan Bysiewicz, the Connecticut Secretary of State, had just announced her intention to run for Attorney General. On his well read “A Connecticut Law Blog” (I include myself as a reader), Attorney McKeen pondered whether Secretary Bysiewicz met the requirement of ten years of law practice to qualify running for the office. The query stirred goose quills throughout the state including those of local media and opposing politicians. Ryan's words were repeated on blogs, newspapers and newscasts throughout the state. No court had ever questioned the statute. Attorney McKeen had sparked a debate. The question would now come before the courts.

So what’s the big hullabaloo? I wondered. Connecticut’s Constitution states that any legal voter over the age 18 can run for any office. Heck, the United States Constitution does not even require a law degree for you to become a Supreme Court Justice. Case closed. Right? Well, not quite. The problem lies with Title III, Chapter 35, Section 3-124 of the General Statutes of Connecticut. More specifically, in order for Susan Bysiewicz to qualify to run, she must have "at least ten years’ active practice at the bar of this state." So is Susan qualified? Well, it depends on who you ask. If you’re a Republican, the answer is a resounding no. If you’re a Democrat, the answer is absolutely yes. The question of who is right rests before the feet of the Honorable Judge Michael Sheldon. As we await the ruling, I decided to weigh in with my own two cents.

Susan Bysiewicz is an exemplary candidate for the office of Attorney General. A graduate of Yale University and the Duke University School of Law, she has been a member of the Connecticut bar in active status since 1986. Run her name on the CT Judicial Website and her name pops up as an active attorney. Throughout her prestigious career, she has never been suspended or disbarred. While her years in private practice may not meet the ten year threshold alone, I offer that public service as an attorney can and should also count toward the requirement. I am not alone. States like Alaska, Alabama and Texas have already weighed in on the issue. An attorney's service in a state agency can and should be considered the active practice of law.

So what is active practice? One need only look to the lawyer's bible. According to the Connecticut Practice Book, section 2-44A defines the practice of law simply as “ministering to the legal needs of another person and applying legal principles and judgment” to their situation. So is preparing business formations considered legal practice? I know it’s part of my active law practice. And what about that constitutional amendment that now allows Connecticut 17 year olds to vote in primaries? You can thank Bysiewicz for ministering to the legal needs of that particular demographic of Connecticut residents. Bysiewicz's office is responsible for a myriad of legal issues including those regarding legislation, constituent services, the interpretation and implementation of laws governing elections and voter registration. And then there's her work with Apostille certifications, filing corporations, LLCs, statutory trusts, limited partnerships and more. Sounds like the active practice of law to me. And what about the staff attorneys who work for the Secretary of State? Are we to believe that they are not engaged in the active practice of law. Is Bysiewicz any different than the managing partners of any large firm? Are you telling me that a private practice attorney who prepares LLCs is engaged in active practice but an attorney working at the Secretary of State is not?

Even if the court rules in her favor, I would not be surprised if there remained a few disgruntled curmudgeons who hold fast to the notion that she is unqualified. Although I do not equate it to those that still believe that President Obama was born in Kenya, I do agree with a growing chorus of voices who view this as more of a political question. I am confident the issue will soon be put to rest by the courts.

On a practical note, Bysiewicz has the requisite skills necessary for the Office of Attorney General. She has both the legal background and administrative experience to run the office effectively. Less we forget, she is a licensed attorney. And her dedication to constituent services is legendary. Whether she run for Governor, Attorney General or a seat in the Senate, I am confident Bysiewicz would serve her constituents admirably. I look forward to this issue being put to rest.

So is Bysiewicz qualified to be Attorney General? Of course she is.

1 comment:

Stamford Law Guy said...

I share your view regarding Susan. Although I am now in private practice, I did spend 13 years working in the public sector. There is no reason why that should not be included as the active practice of law.

PS Our enitre office enjoys reading your blog. It keeps us going through the week.