Priscilla Dickman, 55, of Coventry, is the first and only person to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of Connecticut’s new ethics laws and she is also the rare worker convicted of committing fraud so she can go back to work.
Dickman is appealing both of those distinctions, but there are other cases, too.
New London Superior Court concluded Friday the trial portion of a habeas corpus challenge to Dickman’s first criminal conviction – for forging a probate document – and next Thursday the state will proceed with a third criminal case against her.
That’s two criminal cases on appeal and one pending, plus the appeal of an ethics fine.
Before the state began prosecuting Dickman, she worked for it, specifically the University of Connecticut Health Center. The health center declined to comment for this article.
After the first criminal case against her, a judge sentenced Dickman to six months in jail, suspended after 90 days, and two years probation.
Separately, the Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board imposed a $15,000 fine on her for improper use of state computers and telephones. This was the first time anyone went to trial under the ethics system created after the resignation and federal conviction of former Gov. John Rowland.
In July, after the second criminal case, the state won five years of probation, a suspended jail sentence of four years, and a $20,000 fine, based on four guilty verdicts on felony charges.
With the third case against her to begin Thursday, the prosecution of Dickman continues.
The state has proved three times – twice to a jury and once to a board acting as a jury – that Dickman benefitted from some form of dishonesty. But unlike a traditional fraud, there is no corresponding injury to someone else that mirrors Dickman’s gains.
At the health center, Dickman was the beneficiary of workers’ compensation benefits from an injury dating back to 1979.
Because of her injury, Dickman received benefits such as adjusted work responsibilities or paid time off. For a number of years, she worked four days a week and received a paid benefit for the fifth day.
Dickman retired from the health center in 2005, after failing to get the health center and her doctors to agree on work responsibilities and a schedule. This dispute became the center of the second criminal case against Dickman.
The charges stemmed from two sets of documents created by Dickman.
First, Dickman’s psychologist signed papers to put her on medical leave, but Dickman attempted to make her medical problems appear solely physical by providing a second form from a medical doctor.
Second, when Dickman and her doctors began considering her return to work, they had discussions with the health center. As her employer rejected the constraints recommended by her doctors, Dickman produced new documents with progressively fewer restrictions. She was convicted of forging these documents, too, despite pleadings from her doctors that they would have signed the documents she was convicted of forging.
In 2007, on the same day Dickman was arrested on the workers’ compensation charges, the state also charged her with two counts of second-degree forgery and one count criminal attempt to commit third-degree larceny.
That case was tried in Rockville Superior Court. A jury found Dickman guilty of one forgery count, a misdemeanor. She served 50 days in prison. A subsequent appeal failed.
Dickman’s lawyer, Norm Pattis, is now challenging that conviction in a New London habeas corpus suit.
The legal argument behind the challenge is multilayered. According to Pattis, the state violated Dickman’s Fourth Amendment rights and without that violation there would have been no prosecution. With no prosecution, there can be no conviction.
First, Pattis argues UConn Health Center management did not follow its own IT policies in obtaining Dickman’s emails. Second, he argues the state violated Dickman’s attorney-client privilege because some of the emails they obtained were correspondence with her attorney at the time.
In one note to her attorney, Dickman mentioned a “doctored” probate document. According to her habeas claim, this prompted the investigation that led to her first conviction.
The state argues Dickman did not reach the threshold for an “actual innocence” claim.
Both sides will further their arguments in briefs to the judge.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct Dickman’s age. She is 55. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified a misdemeanor charge as a felony.