Sunday, March 12, 2006

Dirty, Sleazy, Dirty, Sleazy ...


Legislators grill Morano about decision not to prosecute commissioners
By Tom Breen, Journal Inquirer

HARTFORD (Connecticut) - The state's top law enforcement official was grilled Wednesday by legislators who said his decision not to prosecute members of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's administration guilty of elections violations effectively means that "crime pays" for Connecticut politicians.

Chief State's Attorney Christopher L. Morano, while trying to avoid discussing specific investigations, told legislators that the standard of evidence required for criminal prosecutions didn't exist in cases such as the ones involving Rell's aides.

That answer didn't sit well with members of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.

"Because you backed off on the prosecution, what it's done is set election law on its ear," Rep. Christopher L. Caruso, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the committee, told Morano.

"In the state of Connecticut, under this law, crime pays," Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, himself a former prosecutor, said.

"It doesn't get prosecuted - crime pays."

Morano, though, told the legislators that a different standard of evidence exists under the law for criminal prosecutions than for civil, administrative punishments.In administrative matters, he said, a minimal standard of evidence exists, but for criminal prosecutions more evidence is needed.

"I didn't set that on its ear," he said.

"That is the law we have to follow."

On Wednesday, 16 members of Rell's administration were issued $500 fines by the state Elections Enforcement Commission for illegally giving subordinates invitations to a campaign fundraiser for the governor.

The 13 commissioners and three deputy commissioners were given invitations to distribute to a Dec. 7 fundraiser at the Marco Polo in East Hartford by M. Lisa Moody, Rell's chief of staff.

Moody was suspended for two weeks by Rell, but wasn't fined because a quirk in the law means the ban on solicitations doesn't apply to chiefs of staff.Last month, Morano concluded a seven-week investigation by saying there wasn't sufficient evidence to demonstrate that commissioners had "knowingly and willfully" solicited campaign contributions from subordinates, which is illegal.

A state Supreme Court case, Morano said, had established guidelines for determining what the words "knowingly and willfully" meant in terms of criminal prosecution.

"What evidence do you need?" Caruso asked Morano.

"Can we honestly say the commissioners weren't knowingly and willingly aware of what they were doing?"

Evidence that some commissioners knew what they were doing was at least wrong, Caruso said, includes that at least one commissioner - public works Commissioner James Fleming - refused to hand out the invitations because he believed it was illegal to do so.

Morano, though, said he was unable to fully explain his reasons for not pursuing criminal charges, because a state law prohibits prosecutors from discussing the details of cases that involve unsubstantiated allegations of criminal wrongdoing.

"I don't want to play games," he said.

"I want to be as open and candid as I can."

Morano was before the committee ostensibly to testify on a bill that would close some of the loopholes in campaign law exposed by the December fundraiser.

The law would include, for example, the governor's chief of staff in the bans on campaigning or soliciting while on state time. But Morano suggested that to make the law consistent, the committee consider applying the ban to all state employees.

Beneath the jousting over the language of the law and the correct way to interpret Supreme Court decisions, though, was the question of politics.

Morano said starting the investigation into the fundraiser in "an incredibly politically charged milieu" was a risky decision, and pointedly said the governor's office had nothing to do with his decision not to prosecute.

"There was nothing from the governor's office, not any intimidation or verbal persuasion, or anything that affected our decision in this case," he said.

The chief state's attorney isn't appointed by the governor, but by a committee appointed by the governor. The General Assembly ratifies the appointment.

At times, the questioning seemed to fall along political lines, with Democratic committee members directing pointed questions at Morano, and Republican members generally offering support for his decision not to prosecute.

"All of you work in a world of politics," Morano told the committee.

"We work in the world of the rule of law."

But Caruso said the perception of political advantage to Rell's aides made it seem as if there are two laws in the state - one for politicians and one for everybody else.

"If it's a politician or someone who's politically appointed, everyone seems to find ways for him to get around the law," he said.

"It's a crock of bull, is what a lot of my constituents are saying."

©Journal Inquirer 2006

* * * *

My comment in the electronic version of this story:

This story shows just how thoroughly corrupt Connecticut’s official theifdom really is. Citizens will be continued to be ripped off, falsely arrested, and railroaded to prison as long as officials won’t punish each other for reprehensible behavior.

Civilian Oversight of Police, members of the Judiciary, and all officials, elected and unelected is so need in Connecticut. How much worse can they be collectively?

Morano is the poster child for what is wrong with Connecticut. Former Governor John G. Rowland is the poster child for what a state should be most embarrassed about.

-Steven G. Erickson

* * * *


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

View My Stats