Jon Lender: Susan Bysiewicz settles lawsuit in which she was defendant before being elected lieutenant governor

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Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz was sued as a private citizen in 2018 by two longtime Brookfield Republican Town Committee members who claimed that they were harmed by an unsuccessful federal lawsuit filed against them in 2016 by a local plaintiff who used Bysiewicz as her attorney.

Now, after three years, that 2018 suit has quietly been settled in state Superior Court.

In April 2018, when the two Brookfield Republicans filed their lawsuit against Bysiewicz and four other defendants — months before she ran for lieutenant governor alongside now-Gov. Ned Lamont — Bysiewicz, a Democrat, retorted publicly that the two Republicans “took [First Amendment] rights away” from Jane Miller, her client in the unsuccessful 2016 federal lawsuit.

(Miller was removed by local GOP officials from the Brookfield Republican voters’ list in 2015 under a rarely invoked state party-loyalty statute, two years after she had registered as an unaffiliated voter to run for a vacant Democratic slot on a town board.)

But now, Bysiewicz has consented to a confidential settlement and the release of a joint statement to the effect that she and her fellow defendants “no longer claim that” the two Republican plaintiffs — Matthew Grimes and George Walker, who Bysiewicz previously had said deprived Miller of her rights — “engaged in conduct that was wrongful and/or noncompliant with” state and federal laws.

Was that an admission by Bysiewicz that she was wrong? Is she retracting what she alleged in the unsuccessful 2016 federal lawsuit on behalf of Miller — and repeated in her 2018 public comment — about Walker and Grimes taking away the Constitutional rights of her former client?

She wasn’t answering any questions about the settlement this week.

And neither was anyone else involved in the case.

Mum’s the word

Attorneys representing parties to the litigation declined on behalf of their clients to comment beyond the brief joint statement — which was drafted for release if someone asked questions, as Government Watch did.

Settlement terms weren’t included in the notice of the case’s withdrawal, which was filed Monday with the Superior Court in Stamford.

Lawyers in the case included:

  • Kerry Callahan, of Updike, Kelly & Spellacy’s Hartford office. He represented Bysiewicz and three of her four co-defendants including: the Stamford-based law firm of Pastore & Dailey, where Bysiewicz was a partner in 2018; and two other attorneys at that firm then, Joseph Pastore III and Nathan Zezula.

  • Kirk Tavtigian, of Avon. He represented Grimes and Walker — the Brookfield GOP’s chairman and vice-chairman, respectively, when Miller was removed from the voter list — in their 2018 suit seeking financial damages for tens of thousands of dollars in expenses they said they incurred in defending themselves against Miller’s 2016 federal lawsuit, which a judge dismissed a year later.

  • Gerard Saggese III, of Whitman Breed Abbott & Morgan in Greenwich. He defended Miller in the newly settled lawsuit, and wrote in one 2018 “answer and special defenses” document that Miller, “based on the advice of her counsel at Pastore & Dailey, LLC, continued the prosecution of the underlying [2016 federal] litigation after it was commenced.”

The case’s history is complicated, as a local dispute over Miller’s voter registration turned into an initial 2015 lawsuit by Miller in state Superior Court against the then-Republican registrar of voters in Brookfield, Thomas Dunkerton. The judge ruled against her in the suit, which was filed on her behalf by Cohen & Wolf’s Danbury office. Miller then went to the state Appellate Court and lost again.

In February 2016, represented by Bysiewicz and Pastore & Dailey, she filed a $1 million suit in U.S. District Court against four local Republican officials, including Grimes and Walker.

The town of Brookfield’s insurance carrier, the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency (CIRMA), initially agreed to pay defense attorneys’ fees on behalf of Walker and Grimes, but then, according to their newly settled suit, Bysiewicz “contacted several board members of CIRMA ... to persuade CIRMA to rescind its decision to pay for defense counsel.”

She also “notified the media” and “claimed credit” for CIRMA’s reversal on paying for the Republicans’ legal defense, their lawsuit said.

A judge dismissed Miller’s federal lawsuit in March 2017, saying her constitutional rights hadn’t been violated.

Defendants become plaintiffs

The following year, Grimes and Walker filed the now-settled suit against Miller, Bysiewicz, the law firm and the other two attorneys, seeking damages for the expense of having to defend themselves against the federal lawsuit that they called “baseless” and “vexatious.”

After the two Republicans filed the suit in April 2018, Bysiewicz gave a defiant reaction, saying: “I am proud of the work our law firm did which ultimately resulted in Mrs. Miller having her First Amendment rights restored as a Republican primary voter.” (A new GOP registrar, who succeeded Dunkerton, reinstated her as a Republican voter.) “This new accusation by two of the men who took those rights away from her has no merit, and I look forward to a resolution that reflects that,” Bysiewicz said at the time.

Here is the public statement about that resolution this week, as worked out by the lawyers in case anybody asked about the settlement notice filed in court:

“The parties in the case of Walker, et al v. Bysiewicz, et al have agreed to issuance of the following statement. This case has been settled on confidential terms satisfactory to all parties. The parties agree that the settlement is not an admission of liability by any party.

“The parties now agree, in consideration of all documentation and information obtained to date, that the defendants no longer claim that Mr. Grimes and Mr. Walker engaged in conduct that was wrongful and/or non-compliant with or in violation of either the Connecticut General Statutes or the United States Code.”

Bysiewicz served three terms as secretary of the state, Connecticut’s highest-ranking official in charge of elections, but gave that up in 2010 to try her luck in the race for governor. However, she shifted as that year went on, and tried to run for attorney general — until a court ruled she didn’t meet the qualifications for the job.

She stayed involved in politics for the next eight years, eyeing elected offices at times. Bysiewicz lost to Chris Murphy in a 2012 primary for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate seat that Murphy now holds. She didn’t regain elected office again until becoming Lamont’s lieutenant governor. During her break between public offices, she worked as a lawyer.

Grimes and Walker were Brookfield Republican Town Committee members from 2004 to 2016, and were the local party’s chairman and vice-chairman for the final two years of that span. Then they were off the town committee for four years, and have been back on it again since last year.

Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant’s investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, P.O. Box 569, Hartford, CT 06141-0569 and find him on Twitter @jonlender