Kill all the lawyers’ legal fees, especially when taxpayers are stuck with the bills in criminal probes of municipal officials.
Retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez notes that on September 9, the City Council’s Contracts Committee rejected a resolution calling for termination of payments of criminal defense attorneys for city officials/employees in connection with the federal investigation that has so far charged now former city officials, Chief AJ Perez and Personnel Director David Dunn for allegedly rigging the police chief exam.
Perez and Dunn were charged the day after the committee vote. The resolution is on the full council agenda for Monday night as well. See City Council agenda here.
Commentary from Lopez:
Mayor Ganim believes that Bridgeport is a City of Second Chances.
We taxpayers can only hope, that given a second chance, the City Council will do the right and courageous thing, at its September 21st meeting.
On September 9, a resolution was before the Council’s Contract Committee. Among other things, that resolution called for the termination of contracts with outside lawyers, signed by our City Attorney.
The City Attorney’s Office agreed, pursuant to these agreements, to provide criminal defense attorneys for four officials and employees of the City of Bridgeport; Mayor Ganim, Chief of Staff Daniel Shamas, Former Police Chief AJ Perez and former Personnel Director David Dunn.
These agreements, and the subsequent invoices they generated, only became public because of the dogged and persistent efforts of council member Maria Pereira. They reveal a contempt for the Bridgeport taxpayer and the arrogant assumption by our City Attorney that the City Treasury is Joseph P. Ganim’s private piggy bank.
The resolution before the Contracts committee also called for the repayment of monies expended in an effort to protect City Officials and employees from the consequences of the potentially criminal conduct involving the selection of AJ Perez as permanent police chief.
The Contracts committee ‘rejected’ the resolution with only Pereira and Councilman Michael DeFilippo voting in favor. That rejection, or ‘denial’ appears on the Council agenda for September 21, as Item Number 132-19.
The day after the Contracts committee vote, Thursday, September 10, Perez and Dunn were criminally charged by federal authorities, leaving the majority of the Contracts committee with egg on its collective face.
It is not too late for the full City Council to reverse this travesty of justice. Council members can either stand up for the Bridgeport taxpayer, as independent legislators, or they can revert to the comfortable and predictable role of rubber stamps for the Mayor, who unthinkingly and robotically do the bidding of the City Attorney.
In a March 2020 essay for OIB, I posed many questions which needed to be answered following the uncovering of the previously secret paper trail. The first of the eight questions posed was:
“Is anyone going to seriously argue that the taxpayers of the City of Bridgeport should be responsible for paying the legal fees of municipal officials and employees who may be charged with a crime?”
Six months, two criminal complaints and uncounted billable hours at $425 per hour later, that rhetorical question remains unanswered by the City Attorney.
Therefore, I will ask it again, and will attempt to answer my own question.
The starting point is the Bridgeport City Charter, Chapter 7 Section 4. It reads “When the interest of the City requires, the City Attorney may engage any outside counsel, experts or assistants; provided that funds are available for that purpose.”
In this instance, the City received a subpoena for documents, most of which, presumably, were public records.
Complying with a lawfully issued federal subpoena, is a legal obligation.
It might be argued, that outside legal assistance was required in order to ensure that full and complete compliance was forthcoming, although I am skeptical of this rationale.
It might be argued that an overly broad and burdensome subpoena should be the subject of a motion to quash, although the billing records do not indicate any court appearance on behalf of the City or judicial appearance by outside counsel.
However, there is no justification for foisting upon the Bridgeport taxpayer, the fees charged by criminal defense attorneys who represent municipal officials and employees facing the possibility of criminal indictment.
Is our City Attorney arguing that the interest of the City require taxpayers to absorb legal bills incurred by officials and employees threatened with criminal prosecution?
By what reasoning and logic does the “interest of the City require” that legal fees incurred by Mayor Ganim, Daniel Shamus, AJ Perez and David Dunn, must be paid by the City, when their own conduct brought about potential criminal exposure?
The retainer agreements signed by our City Attorney, which were finally made public after constant dogging, obligate the taxpayer to pay while at the same time making it clear that any attorney/client privilege is between the attorney and the official or employee and not the City of Bridgeport.
The facts are clear and are a matter of record.
The City of Bridgeport, as an entity, has not been charged in any criminal complaint issued by the US Attorney. Two employees, David Dunn and AJ Perez, are alleged to have committed crimes during the process employed by the City when it selected a Chief of Police.
The City has not claimed to my knowledge, that outside counsel is necessary, in order to defend against a civil action arising out of the process which resulted in the appointment of AJ Perez as permanent Chief of Police.
No statute has been cited which obligates a municipal employer to pay for the criminal defense of officials or employees who either are or may be charged with the commission of a crime.
Only Section 53-39a of the Connecticut General Statutes, which deals with the indemnification of police officers, even remotely concerns this issue. Since only AJ Perez was a police officer, the statute has no application to Mayor Ganim, David Dunn or Daniel Shamas.
The statute imposes two requirements which must be satisfied by the person seeking indemnification 1. The charges must be dismissed or the officer found not guilty after trial; and 2. Criminal charges arose out of the course of the officer’s duty as a police officer. Nyenhuis v Metropolitan District Commission, 300 Conn. 708, 726 N. 17. (2011)
Even assuming that AJ Perez is ultimately found not guilty, it strains credulity to believe that efforts designed to secure an unfair advantage on a test, arose out of Perez’s duty as a police officer. His efforts are self-serving, not designed to enforce the law.
The fact that Section 53-39a exists, and is narrowly drafted, indicates that there is no legal obligation to pay attorney’s fees, absent its provisions.
The City Attorney, will, of course, deflect and dissemble, in an attempt to justify this raid on the public treasury. He may say, “they are innocent until proven guilty” as if the presumption of innocence creates an obligation to pay legal fees.
Clearly it does not.
He will then employ the “it’s over, there will be no future bills, let’s move on” strategy. This canard requires Bridgeport taxpayers to take the hit and not complain, based upon a pledge of never again. How did that work out after driveway gate, where the City paid outside legal fees in a case to which it was not a party?
He may even say, “Mistakes were made” but it would be unfair to ask Mayor Ganim, Daniel Shamas, David Dunn, or AJ Perez to pay back that money. He will hope that those crocodile tears will have the desired effect.
Bridgeport precedent does not support the payment of legal fees. During Ganim 1, as I recall, all those charged with federal crimes including Mayor Ganim, paid their own legal fees.
The taxpayers were betrayed and their trust was violated. However, those who were investigated and accused did not add insult to injury by presenting Bridgeport taxpayers with the tab for legal services.
No one is suggesting that Mayor Ganim, Daniel Shamas, David Dunn and AJ Perez did not have the right to ‘lawyer up’ when the feds came calling. But there is simply no basis for passing on to the Bridgeport taxpayer, the cost of their fear to criminal exposure.
Our City Attorney can be counted on to do his best to protect the Mayor while disrespecting the taxpayers of the City of Bridgeport.
However, even the latest choreographed version of the “Anastasi Shuffle,” (or the “Bohannon Bossa Nova”) cannot rationalize the expenditure of taxpayer funds, which the interests of the city did not require and the law did not impose.
It should go without saying, but it probably doesn’t, that Mayor Ganim should not preside over the portion of the City Council meeting during which this resolution is discussed. He is personally affected and implicated by the resolution.
The City Council has been given a second chance, like the Mayor was given five years ago. The question is, will the City Council finally rise to the occasion, or squander this second chance?