The Hartford Courant’s Dave Altimari highlights the juice former Democratic Town Chairman John Stafstrom has in Hartford. Stafstrom and his spouse Deputy Labor Commissioner Dennis Murphy, Bridgeport residents, have segued from city players to state players. Governor Dannel Malloy’s chief legal counsel Andrew McDonald, who then was a partner with the Bridgepirt-based law firm Pullman & Comley where Stafstrom serves as a partner, officiated their marriage in 2010. The law firm is Bridgeport’s bond counsel.
As Pullman & Comley attorney John Stafstrom walked into a room to pitch his law firm’s proposal to win a lucrative contract with the Connecticut Airport Authority, it was unlikely he worried about receiving an unfriendly reception.
Sitting across from his six-member team at the Jan. 31 interview was authority member Charles R. Gray, a longtime friend who attended Stafstrom’s wedding in June 2010.
Gray attended with his spouse, Andrew J. McDonald, who at the time was a partner at the Bridgeport law firm and is now Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s general counsel. McDonald, in his capacity as a justice of the peace, married Stafstrom and Dennis Murphy, who went on to become the deputy commissioner of labor in the Malloy administration.
Gray voted to choose Pullman over the two other finalists — Updike, Kelly & Spellacy and Robinson & Cole. The committee voted unanimously to hire Pullman though its proposal was $100,000 more than the one submitted by Updike, records show.
The airport board’s one-year contract is just the latest state pact that the politically connected law firm has won. It previously was awarded the contract to negotiate the state’s deal with Jackson Laboratory, a contract that has already paid the firm nearly $200,000, state records show.
The Courant has also reported that Pullman was named bond counsel for three cities in which Malloy endorsed the Democratic candidates for mayor and after a number of its attorneys made campaign contributions to those candidates.
McDonald emailed an attorney with the Office of State Ethics Monday, seeking an opinion on whether Gray’s vote violated the law. Brian J. O’Dowd concluded that Gray did not violate ethics statutes because the fact McDonald and Gray “have social relationships with a few people who work at Pullman & Comley has no legal significance under the Ethics code.”
On Monday, the chairman of the airport board said she was “quite comfortable” with the choice that the committee made and Gray’s role in it.
In his email to Dowd, McDonald said that he worked at Pullman for nearly 20 years and that when he resigned in December 2010 he cashed out his interests in the firm. Gray, McDonald wrote, never had any financial dealings with the firm, although he was a client many years ago.
McDonald acknowledged that “both Charles and I still have social relationships with a few people who work at Pullman: some I would even characterize as close friends.” McDonald said one those friends is Stafstrom, who he said has been their friend for nearly 18 years.
In his ruling, O’Dowd, deputy general counsel for the ethics board, said ethics laws would apply to Gray because he is McDonald’s spouse. But Gray’s vote resulted in “no financial gain for you or your spouse.”
“Given that you resigned from Pullman & Comley and fully cashed out your ownership stake in the firm, it is not an ‘associated’ business of your spouse, meaning: Absent any quid pro quo, your spouse was free to take official action with respect to the CAA’s selection of Pullman & Comley,” O’Dowd ruled.
Gray said in an email to The Courant that he “did disclose the fact that I knew some of the attorneys at Pullman well to a couple of members of the selection committee, including the chairman. Other members of the selection committee also noted that they had relationships with some of the attorneys from other firms too.”
“Though the code of ethics did not require that disclosure, we work very openly on the authority and I wanted to share that information with my colleagues. Since I have no financial interests in any of these issues, my participation in the selection process was in keeping with all the provisions of the code of ethics,” Gray said.
The chairwoman of the airport authority, Maryellen Jones, also defended Gray’s vote.
“We want to keep things open and fair to everyone and I am quite comfortable that we did all of that in this case,” Jones said.
Because the contract provided such a rare opportunity, the request for proposals drew 13 responses by law firms from New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as well as nearly all of the big-name Connecticut firms.
The board asked firms to submit estimates on what it would charge for a variety of initial tasks, from developing bylaws to creating an employee handbook and reviewing existing contracts with vendors at Bradley International Airport.
One of the largest legal issues will be drafting and negotiating a memorandum of understanding to transfer management authority over Bradley from the state Department of Transportation to the new board, which was established last year by Malloy in hopes of making all of the state’s airports, but specifically Bradley, more of an economic engine for the state.
Each firm was asked to estimate fees for 10 legal items. Some firms did not provide specific numbers. Two that did so were Pullman and Updike.
Updike has been the general counsel for the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority for 10 years and its counsel to that board, Hugh Manke, was the lead attorney on Updike’s proposal to the Bradley board.
Updike’s estimated legal fees were $161,215, records show. Pullman’s estimated fees were about $270,000, according to its bid proposal.
Another Hartford law firm, Shipman & Goodwin, which was not one of the three finalists, submitted estimated fees of $150,000. Robinson & Cole, the third finalist, did not submit total fees, just hourly estimates.