SUSAN BYSIEWICZ v. NANCY DINARDO et al., SC 18612
Judicial District of Hartford
Attorneys; Elections; Whether the Secretary of the State, who Seeks to be a Candidate for the Office of Attorney General, meets the Active Practice of Law Requirement for Attorneys General set Forth in General Statutes § 3-124; Whether Plaintiff had Standing; Whether Issues were Ripe for Adjudication. On January 13, 2010, the plaintiff, who has held the office of secretary of the state for eleven years, declared herself a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for the office of attorney general. Subsequently, she sought a declaratory judgment as to whether her service as secretary of the state satisfies the mandate of General Statutes § 3-124, which requires that the attorney general be "an attorney at law of at least ten years' active practice at the bar of this state." The plaintiff also sought a ruling on whether this requirement violates the state constitution. The trial court, addressing whether the plaintiff is statutorily eligible to serve as attorney general, initially noted that there was no dispute over whether the plaintiff was an "attorney at law." It then proceeded to construe the words "active practice at the bar of this state." The court rejected the argument propounded by the Connecticut Republican Party, which had been allowed to intervene, that active practice at the bar requires actual practice in court. The court determined that practicing "at the bar of this state" signifies overall practice experience as a member of the state bar and does not require courtroom experience. Thus, it found that § 3-124 was satisfied by engaging in some form of legal practice as a member of the state bar, although not necessarily doing so in a courtroom or on a continuing basis, or with any particular degree of frequency or intensity. Noting that the plaintiff had practiced law in Hartford for five and a half years before becoming secretary of the state, the court stated that proof that she actively practiced law for at least four and a half years in performing her duties as secretary of the state was critical to establishing her claim that she met the minimum practice requirement of § 3-124. The court then examined the specific duties that the plaintiff has performed as secretary of the state. Although the court noted that her work does not possess all of the traditional characteristics of what attorneys do, it saw no logic in the argument that one is not practicing law in their absence. It concluded that the plaintiff, as secretary of the state, has regularly drawn upon her skill and training as a Connecticut attorney to issue rulings, instructions and opinions about the administration of elections and to monitor federal legislation and propose new state legislation to safeguard the interests of the state and its citizens. By engaging in the performance of these services, it ruled, the plaintiff has engaged in the active practice of law within the meaning of § 3-124. Having reached this conclusion, the court did not consider the plaintiff's challenge to the constitutionality of § 3-124. In this appeal, the Connecticut Republican Party challenges the trial court's conclusion that the plaintiff was engaged in the active practice of law at the bar of this state within the meaning of § 3-124 by performing her duties as secretary of the state. The plaintiff asserts, as an alternate basis to affirm the judgment, that the requirement that the attorney general have "at least ten years' active practice at the bar of this state" violates article sixth, § 10 of the Connecticut constitution. As a threshold issue, the court will consider the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction over this action and, specifically, whether the plaintiff had standing and whether the issues were ripe for adjudication.