Archive for the ‘Legal/Courts’ Category

0Candidate treasurer pleads guilty to stealing from state-funded campaign

The 2010 campaign manager and treasurer for Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, pleaded guilty Wednesday to second-degree larceny for stealing $3,854.07 from the campaign.

Tanzania Cooper, 43, of Bloomfield, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge under the Alford doctrine. Previously, she faced first- and sixth-degree larceny charges.

Judge Jason Lobo sentenced Cooper to two years of probation, two years of suspended jail time and to pay restitution.

Prosecutor Christopher Alexy from the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office said Cooper “appropriated for herself campaign funds provided by the state.”

McCrory’s campaign paid Cooper $6,600 as manager.

An Alford plea means the defendant disputes some of the facts alleged by the prosecution, but admits the state likely has enough evidence to convict.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Cooper said McCrory “had no knowledge” and “was not involved.”

“Cooper never denied using campaign funds for personal and other unauthorized reasons,” the affidavit said. “She disputed the amount.”

According to the affidavit, Cooper said the amount was “closer to $2,000.”

“Cooper also indicated that other campaign members were involved with the illegal use of campaign funds but would not provide any further details saying, ‘Everyone has families,’ ‘It’s already a mess, it’s embarrassing,’ and ‘It’s going to be a circus,’” the affidavit said.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission referred evidence Cooper embezzled about $4,600 to the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney in August, prompting an investigation.

According to the affidavit, about 23 debit card withdrawals appear on the campaign’s bank statements but not on its expense reports.

McCrory participated in the Citizens’ Election Program, which provides state grants to campaigns. On July 26, 2010, his campaign received $25,980 in public funds.

Three of Cooper’s alleged cash withdrawals occurred before that date, leading to the charge of sixth-degree larceny. According to the affidavit, at least 19 unauthorized debits diverted funds from the state grant, leading to the felony first-degree charge.

According to the affidavit, Shawn Council was the first treasurer for the McCrory campaign and Cooper took over that role after she left.

Inspector Matthew Schroeder, who conducted the investigation and wrote the affidavit, also found evidence of expenditures that were never received by the recipient reported by the campaign.

Aziel Brown, the campaign’s deputy treasurer, told Schroeder “he never attended any meetings or performed any tasks for the McCrory campaign in any capacity.”

Cooper admitted to falsely claiming to have paid Brown $450, which he never received, to cover up her withdrawals, according to the affidavit.

1Jepsen’s ebook win averages 86 cents per resident

Connecticut residents are beginning to receive settlement payments from ebook publishers thanks to the efforts of Attorney General George Jepsen and his peers across the country.

Nationally the settlement amounts to $166 million, with $3 million intended for Connecticut residents, or an average of 86 cents per person.

Five publishers that settled a price-fixing lawsuit will make the payments.

Apple, another defendant in the suit, did not settle. The company is appealing a Federal District Court ruling and awaits another trial to set the amount of damages.

Jepsen’s office issued a statement:

“I encourage Connecticut consumers who filed claims or are otherwise eligible for credits through these settlements to check their email or mail and their retailer accounts to take advantage of the refunds that will begin arriving this week,” said Attorney General Jepsen.
Account credits and checks will be based on the number of eligible eBooks purchased during the claims period – April 1, 2010, to May 21, 2012. Whether a consumer receives a credit or a check depends on the retailer through which the eBook was purchased and, in certain circumstances, whether a claim was properly filed. Eligible consumers should check their email for communications from their eBook retailer regarding account credits. Checks will be sent by mail to eligible consumers. For more information about the settlements, please visit www.ebookagsettlements.com.
 “Consumers are entitled to a fair, open and competitive marketplace, and consumers who have suffered as a consequence of violation of antitrust laws are entitled to compensation,” the Attorney General said, “At the upcoming damages trial, Connecticut – along with Texas and New York – will be leading the effort on behalf of our partner states to obtain substantial additional compensation for consumers as well as civil penalties for the state.”
Assistant Attorneys General Joseph Nielsen, Gary Becker and Richard Porter; Paralegal Specialist Holly MacDonald; and Assistant Attorney General Michael Cole, chief of the Antitrust and Government Program Fraud Department, are assisting the Attorney General in this matter.

2Charges against former Virginia governor offer insight into FBI investigation at state Capitol

The U.S. Supreme Court has restricted the meaning of honest services fraud since Gov. John Rowland pleaded guilty to that charge a decade ago, but the same law could be at issue in an FBI investigation of House Republicans.

George Gallo served as chief of staff under Minority Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, from 2007 until he resigned last month, acknowledging he was a person of interest in the investigation. No arrests have been made.

Cafero said the Republican caucus is “cooperating fully with the federal inquiry.”

The FBI appears to be focused on direct mail vendors used by Republican House candidates, including Direct Mail Systems of Florida and King Strategic Communications of Ohio.

“It kind of looks like a kickback case,” said Eric Jaso, a partner at Seeger Weiss and former federal prosecutor. He said investigators may also be looking for “a secret or undisclosed ownership interest.”

Jaso said it was unclear to him, based on press accounts, what federal law was violated. “It is very puzzling. You need a federal jurisdictional hook,” he said.

“It’s almost like a commercial bribery case,” Jaso said, explaining that commercial bribery is, for example, when an architect pays to be on a landlord’s list of approved contractors.

Norm Pattis of the Pattis Law Firm said authorities take cases involving public officials more seriously “because they involve violations of the public trust.”

Pattis said one defense approach is to look at whether the payments were “a commission” that came out of company profits or “are you rolling that extra cost” into what the client pays.

Honest Services Fraud

Honest services fraud is a form of mail or wire fraud. Pattis said one form of fraud involves false representations and so a defense strategy would be to ask, “Were the representations in fact false?”

“Sometimes in fraud cases there’s buyer’s remorse” rather than fraud, he said.

The problem some courts have had with honest services fraud, Jaso said, is that officials do not have “reasonable notice of what’s illegal.”

“Where does mere dishonesty end and a violation of federal law begin,” he said.

Although the federal courts from the Supreme Court down have reduced the scope of honest services fraud in recent years, federal prosecutors recently charged former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and his wife with conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud and three counts of honest-services wire fraud.

Last month, federal prosecutors indicted a California state senator on 24 counts for allegedly taking bribes from a hospital owner and an FBI front. The charges include honest services fraud.

“The theory is that when a local or state official takes a bribe or a kickback, he or she defrauds the people of the state or locality of their right to that public official’s honest services,” the law firm Hodgson Russ wrote in an analysis of the McDonnell indictment.

The bribe or kickback does not have to violate state law, either. In Virginia, “laws apparently place no financial limit on the gifts a state or local official can receive,” according to Hodgson Russ, although there are disclosure requirements.

In order to avoid being unconstitutionally vague, the U.S. Supreme Court “limited the scope of the honest-services fraud statute to bribery and kickback schemes, as opposed to ‘undisclosed self-dealing by a public official or private employee,’” according to an analysis of Ring v. United States by the law firm Saul Ewing.

“In other words, when a lobbyist offers ‘things of value’ other than campaign contributions, the government can establish bribery, and therefore a violation of the honest-services fraud statute, without establishing an explicit agreement between the lobbyist and the public official,” according to the Saul Ewing analysis.

According to Hodgson Russ, honest services fraud “does not criminalize mere failures to disclose conflicts of interest.”

“As a practical matter, the law gave federal prosecutors the power to criminalize objectionable behavior, conflating the merely unethical with the intentionally criminal,” wrote David Rittgers, a lawyer and former legal policy analyst at the Cato Institute. “Behavior that was not illegal under state law (particularly state ethics requirements for public officials) became illegal under federal law.”

“This criminalized an employee lying to his employer, and as Justice Scalia pointed out, ‘would seemingly cover a salaried employee’s phoning in sick to go to a ball game,’” Rittgers said.

“Public corruption is already illegal. But unlike the existing federal bribery and kickback statutes, the ‘honest services’ fraud statute isn’t limited to lobbyists or those who do receive federal funds,” Rittgers continues. “Breach of a fiduciary duty between private actors falls within the statute when motivated by a bribe or kickback.”

Under Color of Official Right

The charges against the McDonnells also include conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right and obtaining property under color of official right.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court in Evans v. United States, under common law “extortion was an offense committed by a public official who took ‘by color of his office’ money that was not due to him for the performance of his official duties.”

“It can be said that ‘the coercive element is provided by the public office itself,’” according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Resource Manual. “This theory of extortion under color of official right has resulted in the successful prosecution of a wide range of officials, including those serving on the federal, state and local levels.”

The manual also says a public official doesn’t have to have “actual authority” if it was “reasonable to believe” he or she had that power. For example, a “public official can extort money for permit beyond control of his office, so long as victim has a reasonable belief that he could affect issuance.”

“Some courts have held that private persons who are not themselves public officials can be convicted under this provision if they caused public officials to perform official acts in return for payments to the non-public official,” the manual says.

For example, the head of a local Republican Party was convicted for causing “public officials to induce a third party to pay out money.”

Private individuals who make such payments have also been charged under this statute.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was not receptive to under color of official right charges against private individuals, saying “we believe that, as a general matter and with caveats as suggested here, proceeding against private citizens on an ‘official rights’ theory is inappropriate.”

In addition to federal laws against bribery, there is also a law prohibiting illegal gratuities. The difference between the two is that an illegal gratuity is offered after an official action rather than before.

0HealthBridge subpoenas Blumenthal, DeLauro, Jepsen and Malloy in RICO suit against union

The Connecticut nursing home company where striking workers became a political issue two years ago has subpoenaed several of the state’s top elected leaders, including Gov. Dannel Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen.

HealthBridge, owner of eight Connecticut nursing homes, sued the unions striking at five of its locations in 2012 under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, legislation originally intended to fight the mob.

Lawyers for the defendants in the suit – the New England Health Care Employers Union, also known as Service Employees International Union 1199NE, and United Healthcare Workers East, another SEIU affiliate – objected to the subpoenas in a Feb. 21 court filing.

HealthBridge subpoenaed Jepsen and Malloy’s office, plus both of their campaign committees, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, state Sen. John Fonfara and state Rep. Russ Morin.

All of the subpoenaed officials are Democrats.

“We have received the subpoenas and are reviewing them,” said Jaclyn Falkowski, a spokeswoman for Jepsen. “We have no further comment at this time.”

Leon Dayan of Bredhoff & Kaiser said in his objection the subpoenas are too broad especially for “this early phase of discovery, which is required to be limited in nature.”

According to Dayan’s objection, HealthBridge issued 92 document requests and 25 interrogatories.

“The depositions’ sole purpose appears to be the improper one of sending the message that if a union or other organization dares to exercise its First Amendment right to petition government officials in a manner that displeases Plaintiffs or their owner, not only will that organization be subject to a harassing lawsuit, but all the organization’s perceived political and other allies can expect to be harassed and have their costs driven up as well,” Dayan wrote.

“Absent intervention by this Court, sitting elected officials and their staffs will be forced to take time away from working for their constituents.”

Dayan also objected to HealthBridge’s efforts not to disclose the name of the former union organizer upon whose testimony the company is relying to make some of its claims.

The Blumenthal subpoena, included in Dayan’s objection, requests documents related to:

– HealthBridge’s application to close a Wethersfield nursing home,

alleged sabotage by striking workers,

– efforts to put HealthBridge nursing homes into receivership.

Jepsen recused himself from any investigations into union sabotage after joining strikers on the picket line.

Company contributions to union pension funds have long been part of the labor dispute at the five nursing homes, which declared bankruptcy last year.

Update: Now with link to objection.

1Should the State Library preserve legislative and judicial documents?

An old proposal would have brought the General Assembly and Judicial Branch under the State Library for the sake of preserving historical records and consistently maintaining government documents.

State Librarian Kendall Wiggin said Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration suggested the bill, S.B. 30, in 2010 and he took the lead on it.

“A lot of people told me it would be dead on arrival,” he said. “I try to think of myself as nonpolitical.” Wiggin said he has not pursued it with the administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy.

The bill would have required the two branches of government to follow document-preservation policies set in conjunction with the library. “It’s one of those things you have to carefully explain what it is you’re trying to do,” Wiggin said. “We never wanted to tell the other two branches what to do.”

Legislators and their staff members can delete an email and, since the Office of Legislative Management only archives a copy for 21 days, that document is destroyed within a month. Executive branch officials, from the governor down, must keep routine correspondence by email for at least two years and some documents even longer.

A request for emails from four legislators on a transparency task force demonstrated the lack of consistency in legislative emails.

“The public’s right to know is dependent upon a records management program that insures consistent policies and handling of public records as well as a transparent and accountable destruction process,” Wiggin said in his testimony supporting the bill.

The Judicial Branch testified against the bill saying it already has record-retention rules in place.

The procedures outlined by the library would mean there is always a record of destroyed documents, Wiggin explained. The agency would request permission to destroy documents. If the request followed the record-retention guidelines and the documents had no historical value, the library would approve it.

“It protects an agency as well,” he said. “It avoids any perception that they’re just throwing things away.”

The request and approval would be kept to demonstrate the integrity of the process. “They’re permanent. We never get rid of those.”

“It’s to everybody’s benefit to follow a process,” Wiggin said.

Agencies hold onto many documents longer than they are required to, according to Wiggin, but the library is willing to store and preserve documents of enduring value when agencies no longer want them on hand.

“We’re kind of like the file cabinet of last resort,” he said. “We take that burden for agencies.”

“Some legislative materials come here and have for some time,” Wiggin said, including paper copies of transcripts for all hearings.

He said it would be more difficult – “probably a lot harder” – to write a biography about a major legislative figure than a governor.

He said legislators “can do what they want” with their personal files.  “Some have donated them,” he said. “There’s no consistency with what happens to these files.”

“It wouldn’t be us dictating to them,” Wiggin said, referring to the old legislation. “It would create a uniform process.”

For example, the legislative email of former state Sen. Andrew McDonald was not preserved. Historians may be interested in his records because he went on to serve as Malloy’s general counsel and now on the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Wiggin said a governor’s papers have to go the state library and fortunately they do include correspondence with legislators. Such indirect methods of research prompt the library staff to think carefully about what to keep.

He said collaboration between the General Assembly, the Judicial Branch and the State Library would provide an opportunity to “figure out what really is important to keep for the historical record.”

“Some things transcend the boundaries of the three branches,” he said.

Wiggin said he hopes to work with the leadership of all three branches going forward. For example, he said the state will need to pursue a common document-management system as a long-term project.

0Warning to campaigns: State list of banned contributors isn’t definitive

The list of state contractors banned from contributing to political campaigns is the best effort of state agencies, but it isn’t definitive, a reality highlighted by the absence from the list of several companies with publicly-acknowledged state relationships.

For example, six of the 11 First Five companies getting economic development assistance from the state are not on the Sept. 30 list of state contractors prohibited from contributing to a statewide campaign.

The Department of Economic and Community Development, which administers First Five, did not respond to a request for comment.

Over the summer, the Department of Transportation announced Stamford Manhattan Development Ventures as its preferred developer for a transit-oriented development project in Stamford, a relationship expected to include $35 million in state aid for parking garages.

Yet Stamford Manhattan does not appear on the latest list of banned state contractors.

A DOT spokesman said the agency is “researching the issue.”

The list, administered by the State Elections Enforcement Commission, includes current and prospective state contractors, both legally-defined categories.

“Whether or not you’re on the list is not the defining factor,” said Joshua Foley, an attorney and spokesman for SEEC.

A contractor is defined as a company with a single contract worth at least $50,000 or a series of contracts worth $100,000 in a single year. The statute includes agreements for “a grant, loan or loan guarantee” in the definition of state contacts.

Companies cannot make political donations in Connecticut, so the contractor ban prohibits principals of contractors – another term specified in the law – from contributing. The principals banned from donating include owners, certain executives, managers who negotiate with the state and directors (except when the contractor is a nonprofit).

It is also illegal for certain family members of principals to contribute to campaigns.

Foley said a campaign’s treasurer is liable if he or she accepts an illegal contribution, but there is protection when a contractor lies.

State contractors have 30 days to fix an illegal contribution.

Foley said a contractor who makes illegal contributions could have contracts voided and face a ban on future agreements with the state, plus civil penalties.

SEEC uses the state’s Core-CT accounting database to identify active state contractors, according to Foley. He said SEEC then asks agencies to confirm the computer-generated list is correct.

“That doesn’t mean people not on the list are not state contractors,” Foley said. “We do the best we can with our lists.”

The list’s shortcomings appear to be linked to a more complex part of the law governing prospective state contractors.

There are two ways for a company to become a prospective state contractor. If a company obtains a prequalification certificate to do work for the state, it is a prospective state contractor and therefore its principals cannot legally donate to campaigns.

Companies also become prospective state contractors when they submit “a response to a state contract solicitation” such as a request for proposals or a loan or grant application.

For example, if Acme Contracting submits a response to an RFP, Acme’s principals cannot donate to a campaign between its submission and when the state enters into the contract.

SEEC relies on agencies to report prospective contractors of both types, according to Foley. He said prospective contractors – since by definition they don’t have a contract – won’t appear in Core-CT.

The Department of Administrative Services, which plays a large role in state purchasing, electronically generates one list of prospective contractors because companies responding to its RFPs are typically prequalified, according to a spokesman.

Connecticut’s contractor ban makes a distinction between which branch of government a company contracts with. If a company contracts with the executive branch, its principals cannot contribute to the statewide campaigns of constitutional officers.

If a company contracts with the much smaller legislative branch, its principals cannot contribute to General Assembly candidates.

However, an executive-branch contractor can give to legislative campaigns and vice versa.

If a candidate participates in the Citizens’ Election Program, which uses government money to subsidize campaigns, neither category of state contractor can give to the campaign.

Eleven companies are currently listed on the First Five website. Cigna, CareCentrix, Deloittte, Navigators and Pitney Bowes are on the prohibited list.

Alexion, Bridgewater, Charter Communications, ESPN, NBC Sports and Sustainable Building Systems do not appear on the list of executive branch contractors.

SEEC’s Foley said this could happen if the state is providing the companies with tax credits.

Some companies that have agreements with the state also don’t appear on the list, although it is unclear if their agreements meet the definition of state contract. For example, Harbor Point Holding Company controls TL76 LLC, the recipient of $16 million in state grants and eligible for up to $9 million more, but it isn’t on the list of state contractors.

The Strand/BRC Group LLC owns the property TL76 will develop using the state grant, but it isn’t on the list either.

Foley said questions about corporate relationships like these are complex. “I can’t opine on that over the phone,” he said.

According to Foley, a parent company can be a state contractor and have a subsidiary that isn’t, while a subsidiary can be a state contractor while its parent company isn’t.

The Connecticut Democratic Party recently returned a $10,000 donation that may have fallen in this category.

0Ethics chief won’t confirm or deny existence of Donovan investigation; another legal battle wears on

Connecticut’s top ethics official “won’t confirm or deny” the existence of a confidential investigation into the scandal last year that tarnished the Congressional campaign of then-Speaker of the House Chris Donovan.

The two top aides on Donovan’s campaign received federal prison sentences for their role in a scheme that sought to kill a proposed tax on roll-your-own tobacco shops in return for campaign contributions.

Donovan, a Meriden Democrat, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. He lost in the 5th Congressional District’s primary and no longer serves in the General Assembly.

A number of individuals affiliated with the roll-your-own tobacco shops pleaded guilty to federal charges.

To date, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is responsible for all the charges related to the scandal. State prosecutors and other watchdogs have been quiet on these issues.

Meanwhile, the Office of State Ethics continues its attempts to conclude the case of Priscilla Dickman, a former medical technologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

In 2010, the Citizens’ Ethics Advisory Board, which hears cases brought by OSE and oversees the agency, fined Dickman $15,000.

Dickman, 57, of Coventry, said she would warn others to “never entertain challenging the Office of State Ethics or the CEAB with the incestuous relationship that exists” between them.

“There’s no justice or fairness in this process,” she said, explaining she hopes the General Assembly will fix the process.

Dickman continues to contest her fine and is seeking to reopen the case in Superior Court based on evidence she didn’t have at the time of her hearing.

Asked if the Dickman case was a distraction from the roll-your-own scandal, executive director of the Office of State Ethics Carol Carson said, “I can’t confirm the existence or non-existence of a confidential enforcement action.”

Before taking a case to a hearing before the CEAB, the ethics agency’s enforcement division has to hold a confidential probable cause hearing before a judge. If probable cause is found, the decision becomes public.

Carson said her agency’s main criteria is whether “we can prove the case.”

If at any point in the process a settlement is made, that becomes public, too.

Dickman was the first – and, to date, only – person to be formally tried by OSE at a hearing of the Citizens’ Ethics Advisory Board.

OSE has investigated other cases, but none have reached the level of a board hearing before settling or being dropped.

Dickman retired from the UConn Health Center in 2005. She was arrested on criminal workers’ compensation fraud charges in 2007 and soon after was notified of the ethics investigation into her conduct.

The state never proved its original claim of workers’ compensation fraud, but other charges took its place.

The ethics charges against Dickman centered on her use of her work computer at the UConn Health Center to conduct business transactions. The Office of State Ethics charged that Dickman sold jewelry and booked travel on her work computer and using her UConn email address.

The CEAB, which oversees the OSE and hears ethics cases, found Dickman broke the two different laws. One law prevents state employees from using their “office or position…to obtain financial gain” and the other makes anyone who gets “financial advantage” from such abuse liable for damages.

Dickman said she was never disciplined at work for being unproductive or misusing her computer. She said she retired in 2005 “never knowing I was being questioned” until years later when the ethics charges came up.

“On an occasional basis people would come to me and say, ‘Could you help me get a chain for my son?’” Dickman said, explaining the nature of her jewelry sales.

At least one of the witnesses who testified against Dickman at the ethics hearing admits she bought jewelry from her former colleague while at work.

Dickman characterizes her jewelry sales and travel booking as hobbies. She said things she did related to them at work happened while on break.

There were two forms of electronic communication she used at the health center, Dickman said. Mainly she used a secure system for communicating lab results, while email was used less frequently to receive things like general messages to health center employees or communicate with people outside her division.

It was the general email account – not the special system for patient information – that became an issue in the ethics case.

Dickman admits to using her UConn email account on breaks and remotely from a public library, but she doesn’t see how that means she “abused her position” as the statute requires.

In an ironic twist, OSE fined G. Kenneth Bernhard, the chairman of the ethics board who oversaw Dickman’s hearing, $3,500 for making campaign contributions while in that office, which is illegal.

Earlier, one of Dickman’s attorneys pointed out that Bernhard’s appointment was improper, forcing Rep. Larry Cafero, the Republican Minority Leader from Norwalk, to correct the error by reappointing him.

Dickman appealed the board’s decision to the superior and appellate courts, losing both times. The Connecticut Supreme Court declined to hear her case.

Since the Supreme Court’s decision, Dickman, representing herself, filed a motion to re-open the case based on new evidence she received since the original CEAB hearings in 2009 and 2010.

Judge Henry Cohn in New Britain instructed Dickman to bring the evidence to the CEAB and seek to open the case at that level. Dickman presented the evidence at the board’s August meeting.

Ethics enforcement officer T.J. Jones said Dickman was not following proper procedure.

The board voted not to reopen Dickman’s case, but it was unclear whether the board was dismissing Dickman’s request on a procedural basis – as Jones suggested – or based on the evidence.

Carson said the board voted at its September meeting to “affirm” its previous decision and clarify its intention. “The board gave her the time,” Carson said, notwithstanding Jones’ position. “She didn’t present any new evidence.”

According to Carson, Dickman is presenting evidence she had the opportunity to provide during her appeal process.

Dickman said OSE’s argument amounts to saying, “Ok, let’s burn that DNA,” because it wasn’t introduced properly in court. She will have a chance to make her arguments to Cohn at 2 p.m. Monday, Dec. 2, at New Britain Superior Court.

“I’m confident that it will be resolved,” Carson said. “Every legal authority that has reviewed the matter has agreed with the Office of State Ethics.”

Carson said her agency tries to be “fiscally responsive” but the number of times someone appeals is outside of its control. “We are always balancing the cost of enforcement,” she said.

Dickman said she could not settle the ethics case and admit wrongdoing because she feared doing so would influence the other cases against her. She said she expected somewhere along the way the judicial system or then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal would step in to make things right.

A jury in Rockville Superior Court convicted Dickman of misdemeanor third-degree forgery for altering a probate document. Dickman admits to writing her name on the document.

Courts found that although Dickman did not financially benefit – or hurt anyone else – by altering the document, the conviction was valid.

After serving a brief jail sentence, Dickman filed a habeas appeal in an attempt to overturn the conviction, claiming the state improperly obtained the evidence against her. She lost that appeal, too.

A separate criminal trial in Hartford Superior Court found Dickman guilty of forging notes from doctors so she could return to work, making her case the exact opposite of the more-typical workers’ compensation fraud prosecutors originally charged her with.

Dickman has a long history with workers’ compensation – she is claiming the health center violated her rights in a separate case before the Workers’ Compensation Commission – dating back to the 1970s. For decades, Dickman says she worked essentially without incident under the arrangements her doctors set out to manage the fibromyalgia related to a past work injury.

In the early 2000s, she struggled to reach a new accommodation with the health center, negotiating in multiple rounds over what restrictions on her work would be acceptable. The health center wanted Dickman to stay at home and not work when her restrictions prevented her from being productive at the office, so Dickman tried to adjust the restrictions to a point acceptable to the health center.

Although her doctors claimed they would have signed the documents anyway, a jury convicted Dickman of four counts of felony second-degree forgery after deliberating for fewer than 20 minutes. She received five years of probation as a sentence.

Dickman often points out how others do things very similar to what she did without facing punishment. For example, auditors found widespread computer use for non-work purposes among her colleagues at the health center.

Perhaps her favorite example is an email she obtained after her board hearing. The email appears to show ethics enforcement officer Jones engaged in selling Girl Scout cookies to colleagues.

Carson said use of state computers for non-work purposes, like Facebook, are not ethics issues if there is no financial gain. “I don’t disagree with you that those are both of concern,” she said. “Some of these can be overlapping.”

Dickman was most recently charged with evidence tampering for allegedly altering evidence given to Jones during the ethics investigation. Last year, she pleaded guilty to interfering with an officer, a lesser charge.

“I was kind of proud of that, if I can interfere with that idiot,” Dickman said.

2Criminal justice computer system at “high risk for failure”

A new computer system intended to streamline Connecticut’s criminal justice system is at ”high risk for failure” according to a consultant report uncovered by state auditors and Attorney General George Jepsen.

The Auditors of Public Accounts and Jepsen reported their findings last week in a letter to the CJIS Governing Board, which has statutory authority to oversee the project. A whistleblower report prompted the investigation.

The letter warns of potential delays and cost overruns due to poor communication and management problems.

A report to the General Assembly on July 1 projected the Criminal Justice Information System would be completed in November 2014. A report by MTG Management Consultants issued just weeks later found that projection unlikely to be met.

In their letter the auditors and Jepsen said staff running the CJIS project did not share MTG’s report, a quarterly risk assessment, with the board.

“Central to each of these concerns is our conclusion that the quality of information provided to the board by CJIS staff has been consistently poor,” the letter says, adding there was “a failure by board to meaningfully engage” project staff.

A former chief of information technology for the state raised issues about the project’s leadership three years ago.

2Are child advocates in custody cases fairly compensated or overpaid?

Image Copyright Andrey Popov, 2013. Used under license from Shutterstock.com.

Image Copyright Andrey Popov, 2013.
Used under license from Shutterstock.com.

Child advocacy in Connecticut family court could prove to be a valuable business, with attorneys billing more than $10,000 on some cases and a small circle of them managing dozens of appointments at a time.

Looking at bills from five unrelated cases involving different child advocates reveals it is possible to make $10,000 or more on one case in a single year in this line of work.

Sources provided the bills in confidence because they did not want to upset the attorneys appointed in their cases.

Judges appoint guardians ad litem in custody disputes involving a minor child. The parties involved cannot refuse the appointment of a GAL, whose role is to assess the child’s situation and represent his or her best interest.

Connecticut family court often pulls from the same pool when appointing a GAL to a case. In fact, about 90 percent of trained guardians ad litem  in the state are not regularly appointed to custody cases.

Some GALs who don’t get family-court appointments may work in other parts of the court system.

Since a GAL does not act as an attorney, any person who has participated in a state-mandated training course may qualify. A GAL’s role is not the same as that of an attorney for the minor child, who must have a law degree and advocate for the wishes of the child.

Since some attorneys get a number of appointments as guardians ad litem, it is possible to imagine a scenario where one GAL bills for a six-figure amount in a single year.

According to a review of the Judicial Branch’s website done over the summer, six individual attorneys maintained appointments in at least two dozen cases.

Barry Armata, an attorney with Brown, Paidiris & Scott in Hartford and a GAL, said he doubts any attorneys are earning a six-figure income as a GAL.

“If anything, they’re losing money,” he said, explaining that he would be better off financially if he refused to be a GAL and focused on divorce cases.

Armata said about half of billed costs can go to pay practice expenses, so only about half of the billed amount is going to the attorney as income. He also said many GAL bills go unpaid.

He said he continues to serve as a GAL “because you meet these incredible kids and that’s what’s important.”

The lowest bill reviewed was for a little more than $10,000 over three years. With each parent paying an equal amount, the GAL billed more than $20,000 for the case.

Typically the parents share responsibility for GAL bills according to a ratio determined by the court based on relative financial resources.

Another case lasting about 18 months resulted in combined bills exceeding $50,000.

Some critics claim GALs assess how much an individual can afford and increase their charges accordingly.

Armata said bills of $10,000 or more probably represent high-conflict cases requiring a lot of court time, calling them “the tip of the iceberg.”

“If people are being paid just compensation for what they do, I don’t have a problem with that,” he said.

Armata said it is sometimes cheaper to pay a GAL if it means less time spent in court where there are three attorneys, one for each parent plus the GAL.

The per hour rate on the reviewed invoices ranged from $150 to $300.

Armata said he usually charges about $200 an hour with a retainer of $2,000 to $4,000. He said if he doesn’t bill for the whole value of the retainer, he returns the leftover money.

A majority of the billable hours on each invoice included reviewing emails, travel time to and from court and telephone calls with the parties’ attorneys. Duties such as visiting the minor children and interviewing individuals with regular contact with the children were rarely noted on the small sample of invoices reviewed.

The state generally pays a flat rate of $500 per case to GALs representing children who receive state assistance.

Armata said he would not accept the state rate. “If I’m going to do pro bono work, I’m going to do pro bono work,” he said.

Professor Carolyn Kaas, a Quinnipiac University law professor who helps train guardians ad litem, said that she acknowledges that the GAL system in Connecticut is “not perfect.”

“I am well aware that there are some very vocal people who are upset with the GAL system,” she said. “Any system can always be made better.”

A task force on child custody cases created by the General Assembly is in the process of reviewing how guardians ad litem and attorneys for a minor child are used. The task force’s recommendations are due in February. Its next meeting is 10 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 26 at the Legislative Office Building, Room 2B.

Armata said it’s easy to see how GALs make enemies. He said GALs often say things parents don’t agree with and the “parent is expected to pay for you to say it.”

Kaas said that some people “are very upset,” mostly because they lost a case and “are angry and hurt and scared and they like to blame somebody, so they blame the GAL.”

“It’s hard to separate the valid complaints from the invalid,” she said.

Armata said he imagines some parents think, “‘I’m forced to pay this person that I didn’t pick.’”

“I could see why you’d be bitter about that.”

Part 1: 90 percent of trained child advocates not appointed

Jordan Otero was a summer 2013 Yankee Institute journalism intern. She is a senior studying journalism at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She lives in Southington. Zachary Janowski contributed to this article.

190 percent of trained child advocates not appointed

Image Copyright Andrey Popov, 2013. Used under license from Shutterstock.com.

Image Copyright Andrey Popov, 2013.
Used under license from Shutterstock.com.

Approximately 90 percent of trained family court child advocates in Connecticut are not regularly assigned to cases.

Nearly 1,000 people have taken the state-mandated training course to become a guardian ad litem. Around 10 percent of that number have regular appointments in divorce cases.

Guardians ad litem are appointed by the court in custody disputes involving a minor child. The parties involved cannot elect or refuse the appointment of a GAL, whose role is to assess the child’s situation and represent his or her best interest. Since a GAL does not act as an attorney, any person who has participated in a state-mandated training course may qualify.

However, an analysis of court records show only a small number of attorneys receive regular appointments.

“We’re wasting everyone’s time because people think they’re going to get appointed and not everyone is going to,” said Prof. Carolyn Kaas of Quinnipiac University School of Law.

Some GALs who don’t get family court appointments may work in other parts of the court system. The Latin term “ad litem” means “for the suit.” In other words, GALs act as guardians in a single case.

Kaas, an expert on family law who is involved in training GALs, said there are people who have been trained but have not been appointed because they do not have “the credentials the court believes they should have” in order to act as a GAL. She added that some people might meet the basic requirements but lack experience.

“The kids are the most important thing,” she said. “They should have the most qualified people.”

A second type of court-appointed advocate, attorney for a minor child, must be a lawyer. These attorneys treat the children they represent as they would a client. Both GALs and AMCs receive immunity that protects them from being sued for doing their work at the direction of a judge.

A task force on child custody cases created by the General Assembly is in the process of reviewing how guardians ad litem and attorneys for a minor child are used. The task force’s recommendations are due in February. Its next meeting is 10 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 26, at the Legislative Office Building, Room 2B.

Family law attorney Maryam Afif, with the Law Offices of Seth J. Arnowitz in Stamford, took the training course two years ago, but has never been appointed to a case as a GAL. Afif said she has worked with GALs on cases because she is a divorce attorney.

“All I can say is that it is true that ones with more experience are good to have on a case,” she said. She added that she has “speculated” that experience and networking have an influence on appointments, but cannot say for sure.

Although a judge makes the official appointment, attorneys involved in a case can recommend GALs.

At a hearing before the Judiciary Committee in April, Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, called Connecticut family law a “close nucleus of lawyers.”

“Those of us who practice, if you practice family you do very little outside of family law and if you don’t practice family you don’t venture into that world,” he said. “So when lawyers kind of get together and pick a GAL, they all know each other.”

Kaas said that judges may have “favorite” GALs they like to appoint — that is, “people who have shown themselves to do good work.” She said that usually, the judge decides they “don’t want to just take the next name on the list,” but someone “whose talent fits” the specific case.

Prominent criminal lawyer Norman Pattis wrote on his blog in February that Connecticut family court is “manufacturing the fiction” that it knows what is best for a child in a custody case. He said that in Connecticut, any person aiming to serve as a child advocate must “attend a 30 hour course intended to do just what, exactly – yield a Rolodex with all the right names and numbers?”

Fasano said at the April hearing he doesn’t think lawyers should be making recommendations as to which GAL gets appointed to a case. “That’s where the problem begins,” he said.

Kaas said that those involved with developing the training are looking for ways to improve the course.

“I am well aware that there are some very vocal people who are upset with the GAL system,” she said. “Any system can always be made better. This training system is the perfect example, but we’re always trying to make it better.”

Changes made in 2012 to the Connecticut Practice Book mandated training for anyone who wanted to be eligible for appointment in cases, regardless of their years of experience in the field.

Flyers for the courses do not specify requirements to enroll in the training, only emphasizing that individuals involved in active family court litigation cannot enroll.

Tomorrow: Are child advocates in custody cases fairly compensated or overpaid?

Jordan Otero was a summer 2013 Yankee Institute journalism intern. She is a senior studying journalism at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She lives in Southington.