Pattis Writes About Supreme Court Ed Case: ‘The Timing Stinks’

Norm Pattis
Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis has spent a near legal lifetime poking a stick in the eye of the establishment, representing the little guy, skewering the powerful. The attorney for vanquished elected school board members who voted against state control of city schools is not happy about the latest maneuvering to survive a potential Connecticut Supreme Court reversal. Pattis, in his latest blog post at suggests dark forces are at play.

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.



  1. As a BOE employee, I do not mind the fact there is a new Board of Education. I mind the manner in which it was done. With that being said, I have attended several BOE meetings since the new board members were sworn in. My observations are: the new board is publicly acting professionally, they are listening to and addressing the concerns of the public and they are trying to rebuild bridges and trust with the community. However, the board has been in place since July. Vallas didn’t come to town until January. The changes are a result of Vallas, not the BOE members. BEACON2 is looking for the BOE Budget. What did the BOE do on the budget since July? Nothing. Vallas and his crew are doing the budget. He has promised a balanced budget for this year and has made several huge changes to help accomplish that goal. He has also promised a balanced budget for the next 5 years. He has promised/accomplished more in the two months he has been in town than Ramos and the last BOE did in 6 years.

  2. What I see is a BOE appointed by Finch doing nothing, period. Vallas to date has been on a honeymoon with the politicians and will continue to be on a honeymoon until the lemmings in Hartford vote to change the law and give more power to mayor dumbass.
    If Finch is so interested in working for the betterment of Bridgeport kids, why has he held back $2.5 million in ECS funding for education?

  3. I attended the BOE meeting last evening. My specific interest is to see where the budget and education plan stand. I had heard the CFO had delivered the deficit-beating budget to the BOE and wondered why the BOE had not voted on “this year’s budget,” already eight months into the year.

    So, I addressed the Board about City reporting to the City Council on education, and lack of budget against which to compare, and learned from Chairman Trefry that it has not been voted upon yet, but would be soon. Superintendent Vallas also offered an opportunity to meet and discuss budget issues with the CFO within the next ten days or so.

    A recapitulation: The Board early this year discovered what they called a deficit in the range of $8.4 Million. What they were able to deal with pre-Vallas and/or post-Vallas indicates $2.9 Million savings achieved; then there is an additional and ongoing ‘savings’ of $1.5 Million in utilities, staffing, certain ‘accruals’ not more specific than that referenced last night; $1 Million from the City for facilities activities responsibility for which have been/will be assumed by the City; and finally about $3 Million of State and City ‘credits’ in cash or kind to bridge the gap. The ink is not yet dry, I guess, or the pen has not hit the paper yet. A little more patience …

    Vallas says at worst he will come in no more than $1 Million off and has a couple of other cards up his sleeve in that case that take more time and effort to round up. He stressed the State Plan will require certain activities on his part and accountability by the District that will be novel for Bridgeport in order to be in synch with State terms for assistance.

    Last year’s CAFR reported the City of Bridgeport received more than $2 Million of educational cost-sharing funds and did not turn them over at the time to the BOE. Perhaps that is a part of the way the City has since October-November come up with meeting this year’s Board deficit without much pain? No real word from City side yet on how they are doing what they have discussed/negotiated!

    Vallas continues to promise delivery of a five-year budget along with his five-year educational plan. Expect it to follow quickly on the heels of adoption of the deficit budget by this Board. Open, transparent and accountable data process and information as also promised should allow any citizen to see what is being paid, by whom, for what and when. If that information is truly available to the public, that should go a long way to overcoming local fears and concerns of the ‘sneaktocracy’ or corrupt functioning of the Bridgeport educational establishment. Suspicion occurs outside the City as well, reasonably so, since 80-85% of Bridgeport education expenses, operating and Capital, are paid with State of CT funds. Patience at this moment. Lots to come in the next few weeks. Time will tell.


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