A Stolen Vote, A Sleeping Court, And A Busy Governor
Timing, they say, is everything. There are no coincidences. Things happen when they do for a reason. Thus the conspiratorial mind reckons. Those of more sober disposition acknowledge the great god Chaos. His method is chance. Life simply happens. We make such meaning of it as we can. Conspiracy theorists and pragmatists rarely see eye to eye on the meaning of events.
So what governs the curious timing of the General Assembly’s attempt to retroactively bless the state’s takeover of the Bridgeport schools and the Supreme Court’s apparent failure to act? Is it chance? Or is it a sign of deeper, more opaque forces?
Let’s review some historic facts.
In the summer of 2011, the state board of education replaced the locally elected board members in Bridgeport with appointees hand-selected by the executive branch. This coup was undertaken under cloak of a statute reposing such a right in the state subject to certain mandatory conditions. One of those conditions was that local board members be offered training on how best to perform their work by the state before they were deposed by executive fiat.
The Bridgeport board was deposed without this training. A majority of the board tried to vote itself out of existence, a move unprecedented in the state. Rather than resigning, the malefactors decided that they would sink the board entirely, if they could get away with it. Three board members struck back, filing suit in state court to retain their seats as elected officials. I represent two of the board members.
We argued before the state Supreme Court in October that there was not even nominal compliance with the training requirement. No one disagreed with this assessment at oral argument. The members of the high court were presented with excerpts from the legislative history in which lawmakers made clear that this requirement of training before any coup attempt was fundamental. The state lamely argued that elected officials could waive their right and duty to fill an office to which they were elected.
"Any word from the Supreme Court on the Bridgeport school case?," a judge asked me not long ago. "I don’t get it," he replied, when I told him the court was as silent as a tyrant’s tomb. "The case looked like a no-brainer."
It sure looked that way to me.
But I was representing ordinary people against the state and the well-heeled private interests who were pushing the coup in Bridgeport. The state’s press corp has been strangely quiet on the institutional affiliations of those appointed to take over from the elected officials. There’s hedge fund money at play, and funds generated from the Walmart fortune at work. Big money and big government will crush a little guy any chance they get.
So the Supreme Court sits for months on a decision about whether the vote matters. When folks asked about it, I used to make excuses. The court has a busy docket. There are other cases, I used to say. Then it dawned on. Maybe the court is going to sit on this decision for so long that the case becomes moot. Wait long enough, and my clients’ term in office will be expired. I was saying that last week.
Then a reporter called to ask what I thought about a proposal tucked away in an education bill pending before the General Assembly. Mid-way through a massive piece of legislation is language that would eliminate the requirement for training. It would do so retroactively. If the bill passes, then the case does become moot. It’s called changing the rules of the game when you don’t like the outcome.
Is the Supreme Court’s passivity and failure to act in this case a mere coincidence? Oh, what questions the conspiring mind poses.
Hartford is a small town. The chief justice, the governor and one of the governor’s point men, Andrew McDonald, a former legislative leader, all come from the Gold Coast; is this Fairfield County politics as usual? Could it be that the three branches of government are coordinating this? I shudder at the thought of an independent judiciary sitting on a decision so that the executive and legislative branches can "fix" a problem by means of some after-the-fact tomfoolery. Former Chief Justice William Sullivan got his knuckles rapped for withholding publication of a controversial decision to benefit his chosen successor. If a decision on a case were pocket-vetoed by the high court for political reasons on a matter as fundamental to a republic as a stolen vote, something far more than a knuckle-rapping would be in order. Perhaps it’s time for an inquiry by the Judiciary Committee.
Chief Justice Chase Rogers has made much of trying to restore public trust in the courts with one commission after another. Her work runs the risk of being squandered now. Are we to be asked to believe that the delay in rendering a decision about a stolen vote, together with a legislative fix designed to serve the agenda of a governor hell-bent on privatizing schools, is a mere coincidence?
I make my living in the courts of this state. So I have a deep-seated need to believe that the courts, and the judges who staff them, are fair and reasonable. Events in Hartford during the past week challenge that belief.
Today marks the 120th day since the case was argued before the Connecticut Supreme Court. Lower court judges are rule-bound to issue decisions within that period. Of course, there are no rules in the Supreme Court. That court can do what it wants, when it wants.
Does the Supreme Court want in this instance to do the governor a favor? Is it ignoring a case about a stolen vote while the administration tries to paper over the problem with a legislative fix? It looks that way from afar. Lord Chaos? Perhaps. Or perhaps something darker and harder to discover.
Timing is everything. In this case, the timing stinks.