Away From the Coast, Foley Dominated Gubernatorial Primary

by Categorized: Data, Government, Politics Date:

Tom Foley won a broad and commanding victory in Tuesday’s Republican primary for governor, taking a majority of votes in all but a relative handful of lower-Connecticut cities and towns.

Challenger John McKinney, who lives in Fairfield, had a strong showing in his hometown and bested Foley in 18 other municipalities as well, most of them on the water in Fairfield and New Haven counties. But Foley dominated in every other part of the state.

Below is a town-by-town map of election results as reported by Reuters. Towns shaded red indicate vote spreads favoring Foley and towns shaded blue indicate vote spreads favoring McKinney. Click on a town to see actual results. Results are not available for the two Eastern Connecticut towns in gray: Pomfret and Preston.

The Practice Book Rule That Connecticut Judges Rarely Obey

by Categorized: First Amendment, Law Enforcement, Legal Affairs, Media, Transparency/FOI Date:

The arrest affidavit detailing the criminal case against Southington teenager Eric Morelli, who unwittingly caused a fatal fire by tossing firecrackers at a friend’s bedroom window, was ordered sealed three different times in the last month and half, until a Superior Court judge lifted the secrecy order late last week after acknowledging there was no good reason to keep the document under wraps.

This happens too osealedfileften, despite a legal mandate that favors openness in the courts, and clear rules establishing the hurdles that must be cleared and the process that must be followed when judges take what should be the extraordinary step of shutting off public access.

So as a public service, The Scoop would like to publicly remind the state’s judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys of their obligations under the Connecticut Practice Book when seeking to seal arrest warrants and other court documents.

Section 42-49A of the Practice Book begins: “Except as otherwise provided by law, there shall be a presumption that documents filed with the court shall be available to the public.” That presumption is echoed in the commentary of the section, which summarizes the findings of various court cases that make up the established and non-discretionary law of the state. “The public and press enjoy a right of access to attend trials in criminal cases and to access documents filed in connection with such cases,” the Practice Book notes. “This right is well settled in the common law and has been held to be implicit in the first amendment rights protecting the freedom of speech [and] of the press.”

That right, of course, is not absolute – as indicated by the phrase “Except as otherwise provided by law” – and there are various reasons why at least portions of a court document may legally be sealed, such as to protect witnesses or preserve an ongoing criminal investigation that would truly be jeopardized if certain details became publicly known.

But the Practice Book recognizes that is a momentous step and mandates that judges work to minimize the impact on the public’s right to know. As such, a sealing order can be entered “only if the judicial authority concludes that such order is necessary to preserve an interest which is determined to override the public’s interest in viewing such material. The judicial authority shall first consider reasonable alternatives to any such order and any such order shall be no broader than necessary to protect such overriding interest.”

And the Practice Book requires judges to pay more than lip service to that principle by spelling out exactly what they’re doing and why. In sealing a document, “the judicial authority shall articulate the overriding interest being protected and shall specify its findings underlying such order and the duration of such order.” In addition, “the judicial authority shall order that a transcript of its decision be included in the file or prepare a memorandum setting forth the reasons for its order.”

There are no transcripts or memoranda in Eric Morelli’s file and veteran criminal court reporters will tell you that in practice, there is little resembling the formality and gravity envisioned by the Practice Book rules.

In the Morelli case, the initial seal was requested by the prosecutor in what sometimes seems like an automatic action in higher-profile cases. Such requests are rarely rejected by judges. The last extension to the seal order was requested by Morelli’s defense attorney, who said he feared pre-trial publicity could poison a jury pool and that details in the warrant might be embarrassing to those involved.

Defense attorneys are duty-bound to promote their clients’ interests, but seasoned lawyers certainly know those are almost never valid reasons for keeping an arrest warrant secret. Nevertheless, some judges apply an inappropriately low level of scrutiny to such requests. And as in the Morelli case, they often are overturned only after intervention by a newspaper lawyer.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. So in this, the 223rd year of the Bill of Rights, I offer a modest proposal that the state’s criminal bar and judiciary give Practice Book Section 42-49A a fresh read and recommit to the transparency that has been a hallmark of a reputable judicial branch for centuries.

Veterans Charity Loses $830,000 to Theft – and Tens of Millions to Costly Fundraising

by Categorized: Law Enforcement, Non-profits Date:

My colleague Kelly Glista reports that a bookkeeper for the National Veterans Services Fund has been accused of embezzling more than $830,000 from the Darien-based nonprofit.

But that’s pennies compared to the millions the charity loses year after year in lopsided fundraising contracts.NVSFlogo

As I’ve written before, charity watchdogs consider the National Veterans Services Fund among the worst nonprofits in the nation, consistently receiving pennies on the dollar for the millions raised from patriotic Americans.

When I first wrote about the National Veterans Services Fund for a 2005 story on veterans charities, fundraising costs at the organization were eating up nearly 98 cents of every dollar raised – meaning every time a generous donor gave $500, all but $11 of that donation was spent on printing and mailing costs or pocketed by professional fundraisers. That made it the least efficient of the 286 veterans charities analyzed by the Courant.

I checked in again on the charity a year ago, after Charity Navigator, a respected rating agency, put the National Veterans Services Fund at the top of its list of “consistently low rated charities” – earning zero-star ratings for ten straight years. By then, the charity’s deal with fundraisers allowed the solicitors to keep as much as 84 cents of every dollar raised – an improvement, but still five times what the average veterans charity spends on fundraising.

Overall, from 2000 to 2012, Americans who were solicited by phone and mail donated $72 million to the National Veterans Services Fund, according to its IRS filings. But $56 million of that donated money came off the top to cover the cost of all that soliciting. Even among veterans charities that use expensive professional fundraisers, the Darien charity’s fundraising percentage is more than twice that of other nonprofits. That gap alone amounts to $30 million in donated money since 2000 that wasn’t spent on charity.

Cynthia Tanner could face 20 years in prison if convicted of diverting $830,000 from the charity. Meanwhile, the National Veterans Services Fund spends about that much on fundraising every 40 days. Phil Kraft, the organization’s president, treasurer and executive director, has a ready answer to concerns about the charity’s huge fundraising costs, saying those unfavorable contracts with professional fundraisers are the only way he can stay in business.

His response a year ago was nearly identical to what he told me in 2005: “A small percentage of something is better than 100 percent of nothing.”

Is Jailed CCSU Poet a Good Professor? That’s None of Your Business.

by Categorized: Education, Law Enforcement, Transparency/FOI Date:

My colleague Kathy Megan reports this morning that the Board of Regents for the Connecticut State University system will reconsider Tuesday’s decision to grant full professorship to Ravi Shankar – a promotion that occurred while Shankar was behind bars at the Hartford Correctional Center.

In seeking to distance Shankar’s legal troubles from his classroom duties, regents spokesman Michael Kozlowski said he has heard that Shankar, the school’s poet in residence, “has tremendous student ratings, they like him very much, and that his academic record, at least as far as I know, is quite good.”

We’ll have to take his word for it.

As I’ve noted before, there is a strange lack of transparency surrounding the assessment of public university professors in Connecticut, with all records of their performance and evaluation off limits to the taxpayers who employ them. But that cloak confidentialstampof secrecy is yet more stark for faculty employed by the State University System, where the entire contents of personnel files are closed to any outside scrutiny.

Those aren’t my words; that’s the actual language of the faculty union contract, which was given the force of law years ago by the legislature. “The entire contents of personnel files,” the contract reads, “shall be considered private and may not be opened to any outside scrutiny except when ordered by a court of law.”

Those personnel files contain a faculty member’s application for employment, payroll records, disciplinary actions, job-related correspondence with university administrators and “all other relevant personnel actions.”

That unmatched secrecy would typically run afoul of the state’s Freedom of Information laws, which recognize that public accountability is part of the deal when the public pays your salary. But under Connecticut law, when the legislature approves a collective-bargaining agreement, the provisions of the contract supersede any conflicting state law.

So in 1997, the union asked for wholesale secrecy, negotiators for the state agreed, and legislators let it become law.

“One the biggest potential threats to public accountability is a state law (Gen. Statutes section 5-278) that is being used to allow public employee contracts ratified by the legislature to trump FOI statutes when it comes to releasing information in employee personnel files,” the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information wrote in their Agenda for Open Government last year. “The executive branch should refuse to negotiate, and the legislature should refuse to accept, such back-door assaults on accountability in the state’s union contracts.”

The current state-university contract expires next year and negotiations will begin anew. We’ll see if there are voices in state government willing to stand up for transparency. In the meantime, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not Professor Ravi Shankar’s academic record is in fact “quite good.”

Connecticut, Love It or Leave It? Actually, Neither.

by Categorized: Data Date:

There isn’t a house in Connecticut more than about an hour’s drive from a neighboring state. But in a recent Gallup poll, nearly half of us said we pine for those borders, saying we’d pack up the U-Haul and put Connecticut in the rear-view mirror, if only we could.

Connecticut was second only to Illinois in the percentage of state residents who answered “yes” to the question: “Regardless of whether you will move, if you had the opportunity, would you like to move to another state?” Fifty percent of Illinois residents wanted to run for the border, one percentage point higher than Connecticut.movingbox

But while statistically either you or the person next to you right now doesn’t want to be here, the percentage of us actually planning to disconnect the cable and wrap up the dishes is far lower, with 16 percent reporting they were “extremely,” “very” or “somewhat” likely to move in the next year. That was only slightly higher than the national average of 14 percent.

But don’t believe those figures either. Census data show that Americans don’t abandon their states in numbers anywhere near those levels. The most recent Census stats show that an estimated 2.3 percent of U.S. residents lived in a different state a year ago – and Connecticut’s numbers were at that very same percentage.

So the Gallup poll and the Census figures suggest that we grouse more than our fellow Americans, but don’t actually follow through on our disdain for the state.

Joining Connecticut in the Hate-My-State Club were Maryland, Nevada, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Louisiana. In each of those states, at least 40 percent of residents said they would like to swap out their license plates.

The happiest campers: Those in Montana, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, New Hampshire, Texas, Colorado and Minnesota – where no more than a quarter of residents wish they were someplace else. Nationally, one in three survey respondents said they would move if they could.

Among those who long to get out of Connecticut, one in five cited work or business issues as the main reason – although that figure was still lower than in many other states. Cost of living, on the other hand, was cited far more often by Connecticut residents than those living elsewhere.

The map below shows the Gallup poll figures for each state. Residents of bluer states were the happiest staying put; states that hue orange were populated with those most eager to leave. Click on the map to find the numbers for each state. A data caveat: Gallup says the figures have a margin of error of +/- 5 percentage points.

FBI Releases Heavily Redacted Report on Adam Lanza

by Categorized: Law Enforcement, Transparency/FOI Date:

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Courant’s Dave Altimari, the FBI has released 111 heavily redacted pages detailing its investigation into Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza. As Altimari reported, another 64 pages were withheld in their entirety.

The government claimed generally that releasing the redacted information would constitute an invasion of personal privacy, reveal the identify of confidential witnesses or interfere with law-enforcement proceedings. The partially redacted pages can be viewed below.

The OTHER 1-Percenters in Connecticut Politics

by Categorized: Data, Politics Date:

The Whigs have been wiped out in Connecticut.

The Fascist Party has vanished, too. And there is no longer a single Connecticut voter registered with the Marijuana Party.

But across the state, dozens of minor parties endure, with dedicated members offering a serious alternative to the status quo – or just proudly occupying the fringe.

More than 99 percent of the state’s voters are registered as Democrats or Republicans or are formally unaffiliated. But that still leaves thousands of residents who are voting to the beat of a different drum, from the 2,061 Libertarians to the one remaining member of the Guilty Party.

Some of the minor parties are well known, including the Green Party and the Working Families Party (although “Independent” is the most frequently listed minor party designation). But many others are local and fairly obscure, from the three-person Enfield Taxpayers Party to the nine members of Hamden’s Spring Glen Party.

Overall, there are 30 minor parties represented in the state’s voter rolls, with names like “A Better Future” and “Independence for Montville” and “Simsbury Citizens First.” Eight of the parties have just one registered member.

Many more once-active parties have disappeared altogether. The Unity Party has fallen apart, and members apparently lost faith with the now-defunct Evangelical Party. And there are no more members of the Marxist Party, the Nice Party or the Grassroots Party.

And sorry, Star Wars fans: The Jedi Party has also ridden off into the suns-set.

Minor parties exist in every one of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns. Click the map below to see the number of minor parties – and the number of minor-party members – in each municipality. (Darker colors indicate a greater number of distinct minor parties.)

So What Exactly is John Rowland Accused of Doing?

by Categorized: Law Enforcement, Legal Affairs, Politics Date:

I got an email the other day from a former political press aide from another state, expressing befuddlement over exactly what laws former Gov. John Rowland is accused of breaking in his dealings with former Congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley.

“I still don’t get what Rowland’s crimes were,” the former aide wrote. “Is the crime some type of illegal campaign assistance? Is it a lack of proper income reporting on the part of Rowland? Is it some type of non-transparency of the assistance given that violates some law?”

Good questions. Federal criminal law can be complicated, so here’s a primer on the government’s legal theory and the specific accusations lodged in Rowland’s indictment.

There are seven counts in the indictment, but they all flow from the requirement that candidates forRowland_Court federal office must accurately report where campaign money is coming from, and where it’s going. And if the general factual allegations are true – that Rowland performed paid work for Wilson-Foley’s campaign but was paid with funds secretly provided through a third party, and that neither the money in nor the money out was reported on campaign-finance forms – then that would appear to be a violation of the reporting requirements. In brief: the government alleges that money controlled by Lisa Wilson-Foley or her husband Brian Foley essentially was given to the campaign and then passed on to Rowland, and neither of those transactions was listed on the forms.

So it’s evident why Wilson-Foley, the candidate, would be in trouble in a situation like that, and she has in fact already pleaded guilty. But does her illegal activity attach to Rowland?The government says it does, and in Rowland’s indictment, there are both direct and indirect allegations.

Within the seven criminal counts, there are four different allegations:

1. Conspiracy. The government alleges that Rowland was the one who proposed the arrangement with Wilson-Foley (and did so specifically to avoid the mandatory public reporting of campaign spending information), and then participated in developing the details of the sham arrangement. So this is a typical conspiracy charge: Rowland wasn’t required to file a campaign-finance report and didn’t file a false campaign-finance report, but is accused of conspiring to violate the reporting laws.

2. Falsification of Records in a Federal Investigation. Rowland is charged with two counts of falsifying records, based on two allegedly sham consulting contracts (one for Wilson-Foley and a proposal two years earlier involving another Congressional candidate, Mark Greenberg). The government’s theory is that those contracts were drafted “in order to conceal from the [Federal Election Commission] and the United States Department of Justice” that the payments were actually for campaign work, and were made “with the intent to impede, obstruct, and influence the investigation and proper administration” of federal campaign-finance laws. That, they say, makes the creation and execution of those contracts illegal under federal law – and, therefore, a criminal act by Rowland – even if no “federal investigation” was underway when they were drafted (and, in the case of the Foley contract, even if the bulk of the document was created not by Rowland, but by a lawyer working for Brian Foley’s company).

3. Causing False Statements (two counts). These counts relate to two separate campaign-finance filings in which Wilson-Foley did not record payments to Rowland. So why is that Rowland’s legal problem? Under the government’s theory, it’s part and parcel of the conspiracy. By proposing and participating in the scheme, they say he’s criminally liable for “causing” the inaccurate FEC filings to be made, even if someone else was responsible for preparing and filing those reports.

4. Illegal Campaign Contributions (two counts). As above, these are decidedly indirect charges, based on the legal theory that the funds used to pay Rowland were, as a matter of law, funds donated by the Foleys to the campaign. Since those donations weren’t reported, the government considers them illegal campaign contributions. And since the government accuses Rowland of proposing and participating in a conspiracy by which money would be provided for the campaign’s use in such a way that it wouldn’t be reported, they say that makes him legally liable for the allegedly illegal donations. So the government isn’t claiming Rowland made or accepted illegal contributions, but rather that he’s criminally liable for allegedly illegal contributions made by the Foleys, based on his involvement in the alleged conspiracy.

Rowland’s attorney, Reid Weingarten, has proclaimed that his client will be “fully vindicated.” Federal officials, meanwhile, appear to be betting on significant jail time for a public official who has seen prison bars before. Absent a plea bargain – and a trial seems likely at this point – it will be up to a jury to declare which side has the law on their side.

UConn vs. Notre Dame: Point-by-Point, Minute-by-Minute

by Categorized: Data, Sports, UConn, Uncategorized Date:

Notre Dame led UConn for just 21 of the 2,400 seconds of Tuesday’s NCAA national championship game. The other 99 percent of the game: No contest. Relive the match with these interactive graphics.

The first graphic below is a minute-by-minute chart of the game. Move your mouse over the chart to see the play-by-play progress. Below that is a graphic showing the point spread in UConn’s favor over the 40 minutes of play. The last graphic shows points scored by every player. Use the slider or the arrows to advance through the minutes of the game, to see how the teams and the individual players performed.



UConn vs. Kentucky: Point-by-Point, Minute-by-Minute

by Categorized: Data, Sports, UConn Date:

UConn never trailed during Monday’s win in the NCAA national championship game against Kentucky. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a close game. Relive the victory with these data visualizations.

The first graphic below is a minute-by-minute chart of the game. Move your mouse over the chart to see the play-by-play progress. Below that is a graphic showing the point spread in UConn’s favor over the 40 minutes of play. The last graphic shows points scored by every player. Use the slider or the arrows to advance through the minutes of the game, to see how the teams and the individual players performed.