QUESTIONS ARISE OVER ELIGIBILITY FOR OFFICE
by Sharon Rondeau
(Feb. 2, 2010) — Susan Bysiewicz, the Connecticut Secretary of State, has announced her bid for attorney general amid questions that she is not constitutionally qualified to hold the office.
Bysiewicz, a Democrat and 11-year veteran of the Secretary of State position, requested an opinion from Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal regarding her qualifications, given that the Connecticut statute requires ten years of “active practice” as an attorney in that state and Bysiewicz has only six. The question was raised by Connecticut Senate Majority Leader George Jepsen, a Democrat, who is also running for the office.
Blumenthal’s legal opinion, issued today, states that “a Connecticut court, if faced with the issue, would likely hold that Conn. Stat. § 3-124 is constitutional.” However, Bysiewicz’s campaign organization contends that she meets the statutory requirement because of her oversight of attorneys and legal matters in her capacity as Secretary of State. Bysiewicz also argues that the statutory requirements could be overridden by Article Sixth, §10 of the Connecticut constitution which reads, “Every elector who has attained the age of eighteen years shall be eligible to any office in the state, but no person who has not attained the age of eighteen shall be eligible therefor, except in cases provided for in this constitution,” written in 1818 when the state’s constitution was ratified.
The position of attorney general was authorized by statute in Connecticut in 1897 and reads: “The attorney-general shall be an elector of this state, and an attorney-at-law of at least ten years’ active practice at the bar of this state.” Ms. Bysiewicz worked in private practice of law in Connecticut from 1988 to 1994 and has two years of active practice in the state of New York.
In 1970, a constitutional amendment was passed which increased the scope of the attorney general’s responsibilities but did not change the qualifications established in 1897, a point which Blumenthal made in his opinion letter to Bysiewicz.
On Wednesday, January 13, 2010, Bysiewicz announced her bid for attorney general in her home town of Middletown, CT. Previously she had planned to run for governor but changed her mind when Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by the retiring Sen. Chrisopher Dodd (D). During her press conference, Bysiewicz did not rule out plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2012 when Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) is up for re-election.
In his 14-page written opinion, Blumenthal leaves the final decision on attorney general qualifications “to legislative or judicial action.”
The Hartford Courant reported on January 28 that Bysiewicz had filed a form with the Connecticut Judicial Department in 2006, 2007 and 2008 stating that she did “not engage in the practice of law as an occupation” which enabled her to pay 50% of the customary professional fee to the Client Security Fund. She has since withdrawn that documentation and paid the additional $55 for 2006 to rectify her “mistake.” For 2007 and 2008 respectively, Bysiewicz’s office sent in the full fee of $110, although the same form stating “I do not engage in the practice of law as an occupation” was completed and signed.
Bysiewicz was the defendant in a case heard on November 3, 2008 in Connecticut, alleging that she “had failed to verify that Barack Obama, the democratic nominee for the office of president of the United States for the November 4, 2008 presidential election, was a natural born citizen of the United States as required by the United States constitution, article two, §1.” The court ruled that “the plaintiff lacked statutory standing to bring his complaint” and that it [the court] “lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the matter.”
On December 14, 2008, The Hartford Courant published an op-ed written by Bysiewicz entitled “There is a Better Way to Pick a President” which advocated the abolition of the Electoral College.