Lopez: Protect Taxpayers From Legal Bills In Criminal Probes Of Municipal Officials

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?



    1. Judge Lopez, base on the information that provided the City is right in providing and paying for legal counsel for David Dunn, the City’s Personnel Director, because those criminal charges arose out of the course of Dunn performing his duties for the City. Changing requirements and proving answers on an exam are in the interest of the City of Mayor Ganim, this a necessity in the City’s best interest.

      1. I guess you are joking.
        Even if the city was skirting the line in its initial response, it is definitely not ok now.
        Cut off legal assistance for all individuals and I’ll them back the value of what was provided for at least Dunn and Perez.
        They were definitely working outside of the scope of the job.
        If eventually they are found not guilty you can pay back the reimbursement with interest.

      2. Bob, C’MON MAN,

        Bob, David Dunn was appointed as the “Acting” Personnel Director in 2009 even with the City Charter calling for a nationwide search for the vacant Personnel Director position. Bob, I find this very troubling that the charter was violated all that time and the only thing that changed that was the FBI arresting Dunn last week. Mayor Finch, Mayor Ganim, the City Council, the Civil Service Commissioners all allowed Dunn to stay in that position. Bob, base on that everything that David Dunn did was in the interest of the City of Mayor Ganim, this a necessity in the City’s best interest. Bob, corruption in Bridgeport is like the three wise monkeys, see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

      3. Agreed. But Judge Lopez’s writing on a blog is not going to Shang a thing. ONLY the courts interceding will.
        So who is eligible to file and what attorney wil take on City Hall?

        1. Bob, of course I’m in full agreement with you and what Judge Lopez wrote. I don’t want voters to forget that there’s a much bigger issue here and it’s the breakdown of the civil service system and the collapse of the Democratic Party in policing its self, they want to talk about how Republicans play follow the leader with 45 well here they do the same with Joe and Mario.

  1. Bravo. Well said Carmen but what happens when the council fails to follow your advise? Or even given the highly unlikely proposal that the council rejects the contracts but the Mayor vetoes the action and the City Council fails to overturn the veto then what?
    I have seen it before in G1 when the council voted to reject the contract with PSEG for operating the WPCA and Ganim veto that and the council under pressure from his honor failed that override.
    Without the prospect of legal assistance the council is powerless.

  2. This council,sans Maria,Defillipo&Martinez would NEVER pass a resolution demanding the termination of the attorney’s payments.This council takes their orders from the Mayor’s office period.They are spineless,afraid to anger Joe or the boss on Suburban Ave.They step out of line?,they will not be supported next cycle.Add the City Attorney’s office whose “opinions” ALWAYS support what Joe is trying to get past the taxpayers,and again,&again,the taxpayers get screwed…

  3. Oh Wow Judge Lopez, as I was reading this I had a smile on my face and a song in my heart.🖤 There isn’t a person with a shred of decency in their body that would/should disagree with all that you alluded to. But I could be Wrong, so we’ll see Monday!

  4. Judge Lopez has advanced a timely legal challenge to the automatic provision of expensive legal protection for city employees accused of criminal/corrupt acts related to their official capacities. She has added an important component to her education of Bridgeport residents/voters regarding what might be rightly and fairly expected of them in regard to taxpayer liability for the criminal acts of city employees. She has also, in this vein, educated taxpayers/voters in terms of their prerogative to object and refuse to pay for lawsuits/legal defense and court awards regarding law suits against city employees, with respect to criminal acts committed by city employees, where such acts are not a provision of the execution of their sworn responsibilities.

    The Indemnification provision is a logical and fair way to treat a situation in which a government employee is accused by a constitutionally-sanctioned law enforcement agency(ies) of breaching the law at one or more levels. In the case at hand, involving the FBI (and most probably, at some point, with Bridgeport and Connecticut law enforcement agencies pressing charges against those accused) because of the alleged rigging of a Civil Service Exam in a scheme defined within the parameters of municipal corruption, it would seem that legal representation should be the burden of the accused until trial leads to exoneration of the accused — only at which point, it might be argued that the government positions of the accused exposed them, in innocence, to a legal liability to which they would not otherwise have been shackled… For a municipality to be unconditionally responsible for the legal malfeasance of municipal employees seems absolutely unfair to taxpayers, as well an illogical provision that can only encourage corruption and abuse of power. The liability of municipalities to reimburse those found innocent of job-related corruption, after the legal establishment of innocence, should be sufficient provision of support for those seeking to hold municipal positions, per de facto provision of willing, competent, private legal representation for those accused/arrested.

    And it is really almost complicity/aiding and abetting corruption — certainly an egregious affront to taxpayers, in the context of disregard for state statute — for the City’s (il)Legal Department to secure expensive, private legal representation for those that are criminally-accused with respect to illegal activities related to, but not provided for, by their official positions…

    Excellent lesson, Judge (Professor) Lopez! The concept of personal responsibility must be a cornerstone of the code of conduct of those that would make their living by serving others in a legally-sanctioned capacity. It is financially, and otherwise damaging and offensive, to the taxpayers of a municipality to be “forced” to pay for the malfeasance of civil servants that already earn their living by way of the (exorbitant) taxation of said taxpayers.

    (Carmen Lopez for Mayor!)

  5. Right now these are just words. A legal theory, if you will.
    They don’t mean a thing unless someone is willing to test their his in court.
    To take this argument along with what the City Attorney has long held that only HE has the authority to hire other lawyers to court and seek a legal ruling.
    Or to have a Council Member or a number of Council Members pool their stipend and hire an attorney.
    Is there a will to do so or will they simply sit back and be observers.

  6. The City Council has not only the stipend revenue account $180,000 per annum for 2021
    ($9,000 per CC times X 20 CCmembers) not all accounts spent in FY2020 from which to access funds from council persons who wish to pursue, but there is another line item called Special Services in their FY2021 budget raised to $65,169 this year that only used $50,519 in FY2020. And after July there is still $64,000 in that account unused.
    Forget a lawyer to represent the Council, or lead an action. What about some legal scholar to provide a basic education about the Charter or constitutional role of a legislative body in a municipality to be about oversight, about being a strong and dependable check and balance to manipulative, secret and predator on City taxpayers? Time will tell.

    1. John,we can get the best legal scholar in the country to go over the charter word by word and line by line,but it would do no good if the Mayor is corrupt,the Council is afraid to question the corrupt Mayor,and the City Attorney’s office forms it’s opinions according to what the corrupt Mayor wants..

      1. Harvey Weintraub, BINGO, there have so many people on OIB who made that same statement, if you want to keep your position or title and you don’t want to face a primary then shut up and follow what you are told. Even with this vote that’s coming up it won’t pass, it will be 18 to 2 or maybe 19 to 1. Maria is not able to form a coalition of 10 other council members no matter how right the resolution is.

      2. So it is not for the want of funds at all. And likely never has been.
        Why is the CC not more public about where they spend their funds as they represent the citizens of the ten districts, where less than 3 in 10 registered voters exercise their privilege. Are CC members looking at the Stipend as their “compensation”? With what Ron Mackey has revealed about New Haven’s procedure, are we governed by the same State Constitution, though different City Charters? Why do our employees get to “Act” for so long without a “stage call”? Why did the former Civil Service director know the Charter language about “Acting” officials and not correct his own status and behavior?
        Harvey, we do need a Charter review, but we will not get there from here until Ganim shows less fear about having others sit at the table for such discussion. Fear of ineffective administration that is out of touch with “quality governance”.

        The message from the power in DC is “deny, defer, distract, delay, divide and dump on”. Just as low minded and disrespectful as too many getting a Bridgeport paycheck from taxpayers. “Fair, equal, and just” or selfish behavior when the “getting is too good” to pass up? Time will tell.

  7. Harvey Weintraub, BINGO, there have so many people on OIB who made that same statement, if you want to keep your position or title and you don’t want to face a primary then shut up and follow what you are told. Even with this vote that’s coming up it won’t pass, it will be 18 to 2 or maybe 19 to 1. Maria is not able to form a coalition of 10 other council members no matter how right the resolution is.

  8. Under the circumstances why would ANYONE need to form a coalition to stop this madness? Wouldn’t you think at least 51 percent of them would automatically think that this isn’t right and needs to stop NOW??
    If one doesn’t think that way then how the hell will you convince them????????!!!!!!!!
    And under the circumstances you need to convince them????????
    Welcome to Bridgeport.

  9. Back when I was on the council, I remember turning to Tom McCarthy and saying “I’m voting against this.”
    And he said “Oh you can. You’ll get away with it. The people like you.”
    Sad but true.

    1. Bob, those days are sadly gone but if someone forms a coalition of like minded members that becomes their protection but if you don’t have the numbers well you better hope that they like you because they will come after you.


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