Connecticut: Reforming the AG’s Office

Editorial from the Connecticut Law Tribune

Now that the long-term incumbent attorney general is about to leave that office, it’s time to re-examine some of the duties of that office and reduce the inherent conflicts that our current statutes create.

Under Connecticut General Statute 3-125, the attorney general has the duty to appear for all constitutional officers and all heads of departments and State boards…in all suits and other civil proceedings…in which the official acts or doings of said officers are called in question.

Unlike some states, the attorney general in Connecticut only has jurisdiction in civil matters; any criminal matter must be referred to the Office of the Chief’s State Attorney.

In addition, CGS 4-61dd, the Whistleblower Act, provides that complaints involving corruption, unethical practices, violations of state laws or regulations, mismanagement, gross waste of funds are to be filed with the auditors of public accounts, and the auditors are to report to the attorney general if an investigation is warranted.

Thus, the attorney general is placed in a position of defending actions of state agencies while also having to investigate them. This obviously puts the Attorney General’s Office in a conflict. Further, such conflict, or even an appearance of conflict is always going to subject the attorney general to criticism for acting with political motives.

The creation of an inspector general’s post in Connecticut, similar to those in New York and Massachusetts, would well serve both the Attorney General’s Office and the people of Connecticut. Connecticut did create an independent inspector general’s office in 1985, when there was a Republican majority in the legislature and a Democratic governor. The inspector general’s position was abolished when the Democrats regained control of the legislature in 1986.

Under the legislation passed in 1985, the inspector general was to be selected on a bi-partisan basis by the governor and the Republican and Democratic leadership of the General Assembly. The inspector general was to serve for a five-year term and could only be removed for just cause. The inspector general position would not have criminal jurisdiction, but unlike the state’s attorney’s office, would have subpoena power. If the inspector general found that there were criminal violations, he or she could refer the matter to the state’s attorney for prosecution.

Under current practice, the attorney general assigns an attorney from his or her office to represent separate state agencies. The assigned attorney then become knowledgeable about those state agency practices, and represents those agencies in most litigation.

At the present time any whistle-blower complaints or complaints about waste, fraud or abuse in state agencies may get referred directly to the attorney general’s office for investigation. If a whistle-blower complaint is so filed against an agency, the assistant attorney general who has been representing that agency, and has been viewed as its attorney, will not represent the agency on this complaint, because another attorney from the Attorney General’s Office will be investigating the agency.

Because the attorney general is a partisan position, whatever action the attorney general takes is subject to the allegation that it was done on a partisan basis. Connecticut should create a separate inspector general’s office. This would result in more vigorous investigations of allegations against any executive agency, including the Attorney General’s Office, and such investigations would have more credibility. This would free the Attorney General’s Office of that responsibility. It would also assure state agencies that the attorney general’s office representing them will not be in a position of conflict if a whistleblower complaint is filed against them; and will vigorously represent them.