Does Chris Mattei Have A “Bysiewicz” Problem?Posted: December 5, 2017
Former federal prosecutor Christopher Mattei recently abandoned his interest in running for governor of the Nutmeg State and has declared that he will now seek the Office of the Attorney General. This development follows in the wake of Attorney General George Jepsen’s surprise announcement that he will not seek reelection in 2018.
Mattei’s decision to run for Attorney General naturally raises the question whether he meets the statutory qualifications for the position, which hobbled Susan Bysiewicz’s 2010 campaign for the position as the state’s top legal officer. General Statutes § 3-124 states in relevant part:
There shall be an Attorney General to be elected in the same manner as other state officers in accordance with the provisions of section 9-181. 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. . . .
Does Mr. Mattei have at least ten years active practice at the bar of this state? Mr. Mattei has been a member of the Connecticut bar since 2005, but his experience as a litigator has been almost exclusively confined to federal court, not Connecticut state courts. If one looked solely at the language of section 3-124, a reasonable argument could be made that federal litigation experience doesn’t count as litigation experience at the Connecticut state bar.
However, whether Mr. Mattei meets the statutory qualifications to serve as the Connecticut Attorney General requires us to look beyond the language of the statute itself to the most important decision interpreting that language: Bysiewicz v. Dinardo, 298 Conn. 748 (2010), the Connecticut Supreme Court decision that was a dagger through the heart of Bysiewicz’s Attorney General ambitions. The Supreme Court determined in that case that the language of section 3-124 was ambiguous. The court then held:
We conclude, therefore, that, as used in § 3-124, the phrase “attorney at law of at least ten years’ active practice at the bar of this state” means an attorney with at least some experience litigating cases in court.
The Supreme Court’s opinion in Bysiewicz does not say that the litigation experience must be in Connecticut state courts. It just says that a person seeking to be Attorney General must have been a member of the state bar for ten years and must have “some experience litigating cases in court.”
A person seeking to challenge Mr. Mattei’s qualifications under section 3-124 might argue that the Bysiewicz decision should be construed as referring to and requiring litigation experience in Connecticut state courts, given the language of the statute. Such a construction is not irrational. Ultimately, however, I do not think it is persuasive, particularly given the rule, cited in Bysiewicz, that “statutory limitations on eligibility to run for public office should be liberally construed, and any ambiguities should be resolved in favor of a candidate’s eligibility.”