Superior Court Judge Joan Alexander on Thursday rejected Ernie Newton’s court motion to dismiss criminal campaign finance charges stemming from his 2012 State Senate race, but in doing so announced prosecutors were “negligent” for not including vital facts from witnesses that could have exonerated Newton but not “reckless” in how the state pursued an arrest warrant.
Even though the judge did not dismiss the case, Newton seemed buoyed by the news the judge described the state conduct as “negligent.” He told OIB the decision will not deter him from seeking public office this year. In fact, he says, he’s leaning toward running for his old State House seat occupied by Don Clemons. Newton’s lawyer Darnell Crosland says a hearing will take place in late April for a possible resolution to the charges. If they cannot reach an agreement with the state, the judge will then likely set a trial date. Crosland says the state targeted Newton in this case for circumstances usually handled as a civil matter. “The judge said the state will have a heavy burden in proving that Ernie solicited anyone to do anything illegal.”
The state accuses Newton of manipulating $500 in campaign contributions to qualify for roughly $80,000 in public financing for his attempt to regain his old State Senate seat two years ago. This is new territory for state prosecutors, bringing this type of case under Connecticut’s voluntary Citizens’ Election Fund program of financing campaigns.
“I’m very confident that even if the case is not dismissed on our motion, the state will be hard pressed to find a jury that will support their charges,” Newton’s lawyer said in the past. “No matter what happens, I think the state of Connecticut loses. This case is based on an allegation involving $500, I can assure you the state spent far more than $500 so far in prosecuting Mr. Newton. They could have saved everyone a whole lot of money and time by dealing with this in an appropriate fashion.”
Based on information the state has released so far, the case centers on several disgruntled campaign workers who claim they were urged by Newton to falsify campaign donations that put him over the top to qualify for public dough. The state program requires candidates for state senate to raise $15,000 in donations of $100 and less to qualify for a larger pot of campaign money. The Connecticut General Assembly enacted the public financing program in 2005 following former Governor John Rowland’s guilty plea on corruption charges.
State charges against Newton do not allege he used public money for personal use, but he falsified donations to advance public campaign funds to finance his race. Newton finished a close second to Andres Ayala in the senate primary. The state’s case places a premium on witnesses who came forward claiming they were stiffed by the campaign after representations by Newton they would be paid.