Is Susan Bysiewicz Legally Qualified To Serve As Attorney General?

by Ryan McKeen

I don’t know.  The truth is that in my opinion Susan Bysiewicz would make a fantastic anything she wants to do. She’s intelligent and hardworking. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Democrat and would have voted for Susan Bysiewicz for Governor. I am not involved with nor have I ever been contacted by anyone running for attorney general from either party.

But this post isn’t about that. It’s about whether or not she’s legally qualified to serve. Keep in mind that I’m a lawyer engaged in the active practice of law who happens to devote some of his free time to this site. I’m not Bob Woodward. A few clicks of the google is as far as I go.

Let me begin by saying it’s very possible and perhaps likely that Ms. Bysiewicz is legally qualified to serve as attorney general. Many Connecticut legislators maintain law practices while serving in the General Assembly. It’s possible that something like that just didn’t make the cut in her online biography.

At any rate, even if there’s an easy answer, and that answer is “yes” the question is still worth asking. It’s a fair question and one that deserves an answer.

Here’s the relevant text of the statute that lays out the qualifications to serve as Connecticut’s attorney general:

…The Attorney General shall be an elector of this state and an attorney at law of at least ten years’ active practice at the bar of this state….Conn.Gen.Stat. Section 3-124.

Pretty straight forward, in order to serve as attorney general a person must be an attorney with at least ten years’ active practice.

According to the Judicial Branch website, Ms. Bysiewicz was admitted to practice law in Connecticut on November 21, 1986. If it weren’t for the words “active practice at the bar of this state” I wouldn’t be writing this post.

VoteSmart.org lists Ms. Bysiewicz’s professional experience as follows:

Attorney, Aetna Insurance Company, 1992-1994
Attorney, Robinson and Cole, 1988-1992
Attorney, White and Case Law Firm

If my math is right that’s 6 years active practice (Robinson and Cole and Aetna) at the Connecticut bar.

Here’s what Ms. Bysiewicz’s biography on the Secretary of State’s Website reads about her time at White and Case in New York City:

A graduate of Yale College and Duke University School of Law, she practiced corporate and international law at White and Case in New York City.

It’s possible the work Ms. Bysiewicz did at White and Case could qualify as practice at the Connecticut bar – she was licensed at the time.  However, given that she practiced international law in New York city it’s possible that her years at White and Case would not count as “active practice at the bar of this state”.

We know that Ms. Bysiewicz served as a State-Representative from 1993 to 1998.  It’s not clear from either her biography on her website or from Project Vote Smart that Ms. Bysiewicz was engaged in the “active practice” of law during these years. Serving in the legislature doesn’t qualify as the active practice of law at the Connecticut bar. It’s certainly possible she was working as a lawyer in private practice while she was serving but also possible she wasn’t.

Assuming that Ms. Bysiewicz’s time at White and Case counts as the active practice of law at the Connecticut bar that would mean she had accrued 8 years active practice by the time she left Aetna in 1994.  If not, then she would have had 6 years in active practice.

Either way, if Ms. Bysiewicz was not engaged in the active practice of law after she left Aetna and prior to her becoming Secretary of State she may not be legally qualified to be attorney general in large part because of the statute that defines the role of Secretary of State which reads in relevant part as follows:

The Secretary shall keep all the public records and documents and record all acts, orders, grants and resolutions of the General Assembly, including all resolutions of appointment and resolutions directing orders to be drawn on the Treasurer, and give true copies thereof when required. The Secretary shall keep the records and files of the Superior Court previous to May, 1798, and the original books and papers of the late Connecticut Land Company; provided the Secretary may turn over any such records, documents or papers to the State Library in accordance with the provisions of section 11-4c. The Secretary may give certified copies of any entries in such records, files, books or other papers and of the files and records of said Superior Court and of the Supreme Court, remaining in the office, which copies shall be legal evidence. The Secretary shall be the keeper of the seal of the state, which shall not be altered, and shall affix the same to acts, laws, orders, commissions, instruments and certificates, when requested or required by law. In accordance with established procedures, the Secretary may enter into such contractual agreements as may be necessary for the discharge of the Secretary’s duties. The Secretary shall receive an annual salary of one hundred ten thousand dollars and shall devote full time to the duties of the office. Conn. Gen. Stat. 3-77.

No matter how one slices it, time served as Secretary of State does not count for being engaged in the active practice of law at the Connecticut bar. There’s no requirement that the Secretary of State be an attorney because it’s not the practice of law. If the Secretary of State was engaged in the active practice of law she would have to be an attorney. Further, the statute requires the Secretary of State to devote full time duties to the office.

Ms. Bysiewicz has served as Secretary of State from 1998 to the present. That means at the very most she’s been engaged in the active practice of law for 12 years (from 1986 when she was licensed to 1998 when she became Secretary of State).

Who knows? I may get to cast my vote for her as Governor after all….or not.

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Ryan McKeen

Ryan McKeen is an attorney at McKeen Law Firm in Glastonbury, Connecticut and devotes a significant portion of his practice to litigation including representing injured pedestrians, runners, and cyclists.