Tuesday, October 19, 2021

GOP lawmakers lead lawsuits against Connecticut COVID rules

HARTFORD, CT (AP) – Following the coronavirus pandemic, a pair of politically conservative lawyers have become the main team for groups seeking to sue Connecticut over the school mask ban, restrictions on bars and restaurants and other aspects of the governor’s emergency orders.

Two men, Doug Dubitsky and Craig Fishbein, are also Republican members of the state’s General Assembly. The deal drew criticism from some Democrats, but the ethics officials who reviewed it say it does not violate state laws. As long as the job of a legislator is part-time in Connecticut, they say, officials have the right to other jobs to pay their bills.

“It’s just weird to sue a state that you represent that you have duly elected to represent,” said House Speaker Matt Ritter, a Hartford Democrat and private attorney. “I would not change the charter. I just personally would not sue Connecticut as a lawyer, as a legislator. “

Dubitsky’s personal and social roles seemed to coincide last month, when a woman testifying before the Conservative Assembly accused him of scolding her for not “finding $ 100,000” by her and her other parents. hire his law firm to challenge the vaccination mandate for the University. Connecticut students.

Dubitsky, who declined to discuss the woman’s statement, told The Associated Press in an interview that he and Fishbein are not doing anything wrong and taking on cases that other lawyers would have avoided for fear of political repercussions.

“There are a lot of lawyers, but people are scared. The lawyers are scared. Everyone is afraid to say something else, to say something wrong or to stick out their heads so that they are not chopped off, ”he said. “And there aren’t many of us who are willing to stand up for what’s right.”

The two men, who have argued from the House of Representatives courtroom over some of the same issues they are suing, have won several largely procedural and technical victories in about half a dozen lawsuits they have filed against the state and some municipalities. But they did not ultimately revoke the authority of Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, to issue orders during a public health emergency.

It’s not uncommon for state legislators to sue their governor and state agencies over pandemic-related issues. In most cases, however, lawmakers were not involved, who are also private attorneys who are paid by clients to sue the state. A spokesperson for the National Conference of State Legislatures said it can be difficult to keep track of how many, if any, legislatures might consider it a conflict of interest.

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Following a review requested by an attorney for the Republican faction in the House of Representatives, the Connecticut Ethics Office released an unofficial opinion in July 2020. It found that lawmakers are allowed to sue as a private attorney in court. challenging the constitutionality of some of the governor’s decrees.

Peter Lewandowski, executive director of the Connecticut Office of Ethics, said lawsuits do not constitute ethical violations for part-time lawmakers under the State Code of Ethics, as long as they do not abuse their elected position, such as promises to change laws later for client.

“The fences have already been installed,” he said. However, if the legislature one day decides to become a full-time body, Lewandowski said, “that will obviously change everything.”

Dubitsky lives in Chaplin and represents primarily rural communities in eastern Connecticut. He spent most of his legal career working in agricultural affairs, noting that his “bread and butter” legal job involved representing horse farms. Fishbein lives in Wallingford and on his website lists family law, personal injury, probate and land use as his area of ​​practice.

Dubitsky and Fishbein recently sued the governor and police departments on behalf of the Connecticut Citizens Rights Group, questioning the constitutionality of the pandemic-related delay in fingerprinting required to purchase weapons. They also challenged Lamont’s orders on behalf of homeowners, restaurant and bar owners, and a woman who was fined for violating a now defunct state travel ban in the wake of the pandemic. They also represented the Connecticut Freedom Union, which unsuccessfully challenged the governor’s mandate for a school mask.

Dubitsky said these potential clients are not looking for him and Fishbein because of their legislative positions, noting that they belong to a minority party and do not play a leadership role. “We’re almost as low as possible,” he said. Fishbein, who referred questions about the lawsuits to Dubitsky, is a top member of the Republican House of Representatives judiciary committee.

Dubitsky said he received daily calls from potential clients, including some “distraught about how their lives are being ruined by the governor’s orders,” especially his recent call requiring government officials and other workers to be vaccinated or tested regularly.

Although Dubitsky did not discuss how much they were paid, he said that he and Fishbein had “significantly reduced” their rates for some clients and provided free legal aid for others.

“Obviously, we are doing this to make a living, so we need to get money,” he admitted.

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