Much Ado About Nothing In Westbrook Flap
There is no impotence so profound, and quite so deflating, as that of the professional journalist. You sit amid the powerful and potent by day. And then you rush back to the office to report on what others have done. Some cannot resist the temptation to pretend that they are a player. Thus we end up with advocacy thinly disguised as reporting.
This morning's Hartford Courant is a case in point. The paper created a tempest in a teapot this past weekend. A nominee to a judgeship, Dawne Westbrook, served for several hours on a state Ethics board in late 2008. At the time she was appointed, she was on a list of those who could be nominated as a judge. The day she was sworn in at the Ethics board, a staffer showed her a "revolving door" statute that forbade a person from taking a judgeship or other state position within one year of service on the board.
Westbrook tried to tender a resignation. The board staff recommended that she rescind her appointment. She did so. Shortly thereafter, she was nominated to serve as a Superior Court judge. Her confirmation hearing is pending this week.
On Sunday, The Courant ran a piece suggesting that Westbrook could not serve as a judge because of her afternoon's service on the Ethics board. Lawmakers heard from the nominee on Monday, and tabled her confirmation pending an opinion from the state's attorney general. That opinion was issued yesterday.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal concluded that Westbrook had, in fact served. He further concluded that she could not rescind her application, only the appointing authority could do so. But, and this is significant, he then concluded that lawmakers were free to appoint her and to consider fully the facts and circumstances of her Ethics service. In other words, she can be appointed.
There is no conflict of interest arising from her service. The law's purpose is not served by making a fetish of formalism.
You wouldn't know that reading the Courant's story this morning. The paper reported that her nomination was in doubt. If she is appointed she may violate an ethics law, the paper reported. One wonders how closely the reporter read the attorney general's opinion.
The vote on Westbrook will take place today. The state's largest newspaper has voted, and in so doing it has signalled to lawmakers what it believes their vote should be, too. But the Attorney General's office has made clear that in the case of Dawne Westbrook it is lawful both to consider her nomination and to confirm her.
I hope she will be confirmed. No one voted for The Courant in this matter. The Fourth Estate is on a toot and making up a parallel world filled with a crisis it created and on which it will feed. It is much ado about nothing, and should be so regarded by the General Assembly.