Five convicted state officials who left office after pleading guilty to various crimes are cumulatively collecting nearly $100,000 a year in pensions paid by state taxpayers. That total could rise in the next few years, when former Gov. John G. Rowland and former state Sen. Ernest Newton, who is now in prison, become eligible by turning 55.
This is exactly the scenario that some legislators are trying to thwart by calling for legislation to retroactively revoke pensions that are being paid to convicted officials. But therein lies the rub: Is revocation fair - is it right to change the rules of the game after it's started? And if revocation is fair, how serious must the crime be to lose your pension?
Jefferson B. Davis, and former Sen. Louis C. DeLuca have continued to receive their pensions after being convicted of crimes. And one of the state's largest pensions goes to Richard Straub, a longtime state employee who is serving a prison term after sexually assaulting 15 young men whom he supervised as a probation officer.
Ever since Alibozek pleaded guilty in March 2003, five years ago this week, in the corruption scandal that led to Rowland's resignation, lawmakers have repeatedly grappled with pension revocation.
But a line-up of the biggest hitters at the state Capitol say this is the year revocation will happen, because it is supported by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, the Senate Democratic leadership, Senate Republican leader John McKinney and the leaders of the committee that oversees ethics.
A vote on the issue is expected by next Wednesday's committee deadline for the government administration and elections committee, but the final votes by the full House of Representatives and Senate are not expected until near the end of the legislative session on May 7.
A FEAR OF BOOMERANGS
While officials offer multiple reasons for the constant delays in passing a revocation measure, Rep. William R. Dyson - with more than 30 years at the Capitol, the state's longest-serving legislator - said two major reasons are that legislators are reluctant to punish their former colleagues and they also fear that any sanction could one day boomerang.
"It's a Pandora's box," the New Haven Democrat said recently as he looked around the crowded House chamber. "Everyone in here runs the real risk of exposing themselves to that, and I think they think about that. I didn't think Rowland's pension should be taken, and I voiced it in caucus. Retroactivity? No. That's so patently unfair. I'm not supportive of retroactivity."
With decades of experience, Dyson is willing to say things that younger lawmakers will not. A key problem is that legislators have had a difficult time trying to decide which pensions to revoke and whether those who have committed misdemeanors could be considered along with convicted felons.
Rowland, for example, pleaded guilty to one felony count in a corruption scandal that forced him from office, while DeLuca, the former Senate Republican leader, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for conspiring with a Danbury trash hauler to threaten his grandson-in-law. Lawmakers have been unable to agree where to draw the line.
"The question is: How much flesh are we looking for?" Dyson asked. "How many pounds are going to satisfy those who hunger for someone's flesh? Would that apply to Lou DeLuca? That stuff is so gray."
The latest version of the legislation from the committee calls for a retroactive penalty dating back 10 years, meaning that it would reach Rowland and all others in the most recent scandals. That time frame, though, would not reach Straub, who retired before he was arrested in 1996. Although some say that ex post facto laws would prevent changing the penalties after the fact, Blumenthal says it would be defensible in court.
"I've always maintained that it would be upheld on a constitutional challenge, depending on the facts of the case," Blumenthal said. "The law, overall, would be upheld."
The potential law, Blumenthal said, should apply only to a felony crime that is directly related to the person's official duties. In each case the law was applied, a Superior Court judge would hold a separate hearing to consider the nature of the offense, and the circumstances would be reviewed case by case.
"Many legislators have believed that a minor, technical violation could cost them their pension," Blumenthal said. "Their fears have been exaggerated. ... Sometimes, it takes a few years for all these misunderstandings to be dispelled."
Saying he wanted to be blunt about the bill's failure over the past four years, Blumenthal admitted some lawmakers are reluctant to revoke their former colleagues' pensions because of personal relationships.
"There is bipartisan sympathy for individual legislators," Blumenthal said, declining to name any lawmakers. "This issue is bigger than any single individual."
Despite past delays, Blumenthal says this is the year to move forward and simply pass the bill. Blumenthal, a Democrat, has been pushing earnestly for the measure, which has been rejected each time by the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Pensions Paid To Guilty Officials
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