I recently represented The Stamford Democratic Party in a Stamford Court trial, Caterbone vs. Bysiewicz, where the Party joined the Connecticut Secretary of State in objecting to James Caterbone’s request that the Court order the Secretary of State to place him on the ballot as a candidate for the State House of Representatives. In that case Assistant Attorney General Robert Clark and I were able to convince Judge Taggart Adams that Caterbone failed to abide by the Connecticut laws governing how candidates formally file the Certificate of Endorsement that is filled out at their nominating conventions. Judge Adams refused to ignore the law’s requirements and held Caterbone to the letter of the law, refusing to order the Secretary of State to place his name on the ballot. In this case, Caterbone’s Certificate arrived in Hartford many days after the deadline for nominations had passed. This decision is very significant.
First, Caterbone was not the only candidate whose request for a ballot spot was denied for this election. In the West Hartford consolidated Probate Court election, John W. Butts, the Democratic candidate for Judge of Probate also went to Court to get an order to place his name on the ballot. In that case, the Certification for Judge Butts was mailed in but the Secretary of State claimed never to have received it and Superior Court Judge Eliot Prescott refused to ignore the letter of the law, denying the request that Butts’ name be placed on the ballot.
For many years Connecticut Courts have been granting these legal requests after candidates made one mistake or another in filing the nomination certificates, so the State Legislature tightened the law, giving the Secretary of State absolutely no discretion to these correct errors, declaring the late certificates invalid. Caterbone and Butts are the first two cases that I am aware of where Connecticut Judges have refused these requests. Since Butts has appealed the trial court decision, we now have, for the first time a Connecticut Supreme Court decision upholding this new trend in the law.
Another case where Connecticut Courts gave held candidates to the letter of the law was the even more noteworthy Bysiewicz v. DiNardo, where the Connecticut Supreme Court said that Secretary of State herself could not be a candidate for State Attorney General because the law required candidates for that office to have practiced law for ten years, a hurdle she could not overcome. It would be an interesting study to look at the men and women who have held this position over the last several decades to see just how many State Attorneys General could overcome that hurdle, a requirement the Bysiewicz case has likely firmly established for many years to come.
The message to candidates from the Connecticut Courts this year is a clear one: if you want to be elected to public office don’t start off on shaky ground—start by reading the laws that define your candidacy and your obligations as a candidate. I suppose this will create more work for lawyers, just as the brand new trend of candidates challenging the awarding of public campaign finance grants to their opponents. The lawyers will be happy, no doubt, with the expansion of a practice area. Hopefully, in the long run the result will be that the political parties take more seriously the nominating process and the responsibilities that come with having access to the ballot on election day.