A Shameful Squeeze In Waterbury
The law of supply and demand influences almost everything, including legal services. There is only so much chaos to go around. In a bad economy, few clients can afford the legal services they need. Lawyers straining to makes end meet may resort to sharp practices to gain competitive advantage. Sadly, that means some lawyers will disparage other members of the bar.
Such disparagement can get you sued for defamation or other torts. So most lawyers are careful about what they say and how they say it. But there is a forum that makes such disparagement risk free: Whisper into the ear of a federal prosecutor, and suddenly your words are cloaked in either the law enforcement privilege or grand jury secrecy.
Consider Connecticut’s own rotten borough, the City of Waterbury. Federal prosecutors have toppled and imprisoned several of the city’s mayors. They have deposed and imprisoned a governor hailing from Waterbury. And now federal cross hairs are fixed on the back of State’s Attorney John Connelly. To get to Connelly, federal investigators have placed one of the City’s most successful criminal defense lawyers, Martin Minella, under a microscope. Marty’s competitors, fellow members of the bar, are jumping on this federal bandwagon hoping to grab a few new clients.
I represent Marty, so I write this without the detachment you might expect. I rarely write so directly and openly about a case I am handling. But I write about this case because I believe the investigation presents a clear and present danger to the bar of this state. I write to say to those among the Waterbury bar using the pending federal grand jury investigation of Connelly and Marty to settle personal and petty scores of their own: Shame on you.
Marty is a legend. At 62, he is no longer young, but he brings the zeal of a young warrior to every trial. Juries listen to him. He has won 17 of the past 18 criminal cases he has tried in to a verdict. As of today, he has 24 cases awaiting trial on the court’s serious crimes docket. He’s worked doggedly in Waterbury for decades. As a result, his practice thrives. I cannot think of another lawyer in Connecticut who can boast of Marty’s success with a jury in recent years, a fact which pains me to admit as I myself compete in the same market.
Although the Waterbury criminal court is the domain of Connelly, the state’s attorney himself does not try cases against Marty. They are, you see, good friends outside the courtroom. But, as anyone who has ever seen them discuss a case in a judicial pretrial will attest, they spar intensely in negotiations. Suggestions that Marty gets a break from Connelly or his office are ludicrous. One lawyer in Connelly’s office told me just the other day they try harder to beat Marty because he is, well, Marty. His earthy and almost irresistible jury appeal will someday earn him the nickname "My Cousin Marty."
Federal investigators have been fed a line by several disgruntled lawyers in town. The claim is that Marty has somehow procured favorable treatment from Connelly. Federal agents are scouring through tax records, credit card receipts and every record they can use a grand jury subpoena to obtain to try to show some quid pro quo. But they can look until the Republic collapses. There is nothing there. I sense they know this.
In the past week, the federal investigation has taken an ominous turn. Federal agents now appear to be working their way down a list of Marty’s former, and, potentially, current clients. They are asking questions. What did you pay? Why Marty? Did he promise you anything because of his friendship with Connelly?
When the agents don’t get the answers they like, the questions have from time to time turned mean, with witnesses being confronted with salacious allegations about their spouses. Veiled threats have been made. The prisons are aflame just now with chatter. Government agents are trolling the cell blocks looking for people prepared to say just the right thing.
All this is done under the cloak of secrecy, of course. My efforts to get information are met with stone walling. A grand jury is in place, you see.
Just when did the grand jury, an ancient device intended to stand between a citizen and a rogue government, become an investigative tool that could be resorted to by any fool with a chip on his shoulder?
Why, I keep wondering, are competitors of Marty’s in Waterbury so eager to chip away at the reputation of a man who worked for decades to learn to succeed? Don’t these lawyers realize what befalls Marty today awaits them tomorrow? Is jealousy so powerful a drug that it cannot be resisted?
Economics is often called the dismal science. But there is a science ever more dismal. It is the dark science of using grand jury secrecy to try to destroy a man. In Marty’s case the effort will fail. I will see to it. The effort is shameful and a discredit to the bar and the pursuit of justice.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.