Stop Bending The
April 4, 2004
Hartford Courant Editorial
Arkady Katsnelson, an associate state medical examiner, is only the latest
public official in Connecticut to slide down the
slippery slope of ethics. He testified last week that he saw nothing wrong in
selling his services to a private lawyer for $300, while on state time and
using state property.
Dr. Katsnelson worked for the lawyer representing the estate of Neil Esposito,
whose politically influential family helped convince the state police to reopen
its investigation of the automobile crash that took their son's life. The good
doctor said he thought he was advising his client in a civil case, not a
criminal case - as if it makes a difference.
Dr. Katsnelson's conduct is unacceptable. Yet Superior Court Judge Robert L.
Holzberg treated the physician with puzzling softness. "Would it be unfair
for me to assume that was not an exercise in the best judgment to take that
money?" asked the judge. "I'm not trying to embarrass you in any way,
doctor. I'm just trying to make sure the process is fair."
H. Wayne Carver II, the embarrassed chief medical examiner, suspended Dr.
Katsnelson with pay pending an investigation. Will he be fired for compromising
the integrity of state government and jeopardizing justice in a criminal case?
Don't hold your breath.
hasn't responded decisively to evidence of misconduct or lawbreaking for some
Ethical and moral ambivalence toward questionable behavior contributes to a climate
of corruption. Some examples from the Land of Bad Habits:
Meet Kiti Settachatgul, who was a lead state police forensic scientist at the
time he moonlighted for Mr. Esposito's family, which paid him $2,500. Mr.
Settachatgul was slapped mildly with a three-day suspension for violating state
police rules because he free-lanced in a criminal case. He should have been
Joseph Mengacci broke state rules when he sought to become a Superior Court
judge less than two years after heading the commission that recommended his
selection. Yet the legislature's Judiciary Committee rubber-stamped his
confirmation and the state House approved it. House Speaker Moira Lyons and
influential Democrat Rep. William R. Dyson voted yes. Why? Because Mr.
Mengacci's violation was "minor," according to Mr. Dyson.
Another judicial nominee, James K. Robertson, was rubber-stamped by the
Judiciary Committee, notwithstanding the glaring appearance of conflict. Mr.
Robertson had done free legal work for Gov. John G. Rowland,
and the governor still owed him $100,000 for other work as well. Moreover, Mr.
Robertson's law firm had contributed generously to Mr. Rowland's political
campaigns and collected $8.5 million in fees from state work.
Ultimately, Mr. Mengacci and Mr. Robertson were not confirmed, but only because
of the public outcry.
George "Doc" Gunther, the dean of the Senate, saw nothing wrong in
voting for Mr. Mengacci. Why would he? After all, Mr. Gunther still speaks of
Daniel E. Brennan Jr. as a "tough, good, competent judge" who merely
"got snagged up on something that was questionable." The snag? In January, Mr. Brennan resigned as Superior Court
judge after pleading guilty to charges obstruction of justice and lying to the
FBI regarding his financial dealings with a client. He should have been forced
out after his indictment last year, but that would have been extraordinary in
the Land of Steady Habits.
Sections of an opinion article by Richard L. Judd published in The Courant were
found to have been plagiarized. He is the president of Central Connecticut State University, which has a
strict code (signed by him) barring students and faculty from such stealing. It
wasn't Mr. Judd's first brush with misconduct. He had been caught impersonating
a police officer.
Yet after his latest indiscretion, Mr. Judd was allowed to retire on July 1.
Why not fire him? Because, it seems, that's not how things are done. Indeed,
the faculty senate all but elevated Mr. Judd to sainthood. So did Lawrence
McHugh, chairman of Connecticut State University's board of trustees, who
stressed that the decision to retire was strictly up to Mr. Judd and went on to
praise him effusively.
For years, state Homeland Security Director Vincent DeRosa, a friend of the
governor's, operated a used car dealership in violation of state police rules.
Eventually, he was given the choice of giving up his dealership or retiring
from his state job. He chose the latter. Subsequently, his successor, Maj. John
Buturla, was verbally reprimanded because he, too, violated the rules by buying
a used car from Mr. DeRosa's dealership and not telling the boss.
The boss, Public Safety Commissioner Arthur Spada, claimed he didn't know that
Mr. DeRosa and Mr. Buturla violated the rules, although The Courant had
published a story about Mr. DeRosa's side business. But that's the least of Mr.
Spada's transgressions. His use of a state police officer to chauffeur him to
weddings, private dinners and golf outings at substantial overtime costs to the
state has made the commissioner the poster child of indulgence, arrogance and
abuse of public trust. Mr. Spada, who fudged his official appointment calendar
to play hooky, still wears the top-cop badge. He is close to the governor.
As for Mr. Rowland, his distressing behavior has been well chronicled for at
least a year. He is under federal investigation and a legislative impeachment
inquiry is at work. Yet he continues to thumb his nose at his critics,
insisting that, even though he lied to the people of Connecticut about illicit gifts
he accepted, he has done nothing that merits his resignation. Still, there are
those who claim that the governor is being hounded for political reasons.
Earth Technology, a leading environmental cleanup contractor, did home
improvement work for William Hegener when he was the director of the oil and
chemical spill response division at the state Department of Environmental
Protection. There are allegations of other gift-taking at DEP and federal
agents are investigating.
Public Works Commissioner Theodore Anson accepted free architectural plans for
an addition to his home from a firm that had done considerable business with
his agency. Mr. Anson should have been fired. The governor asked him to resign,
an undeserved courtesy.
This list, already too long, goes on and includes a former state treasurer and
the former mayors of Bridgeport and Waterbury, all of whom are
in jail because of federal investigations.
Meanwhile, the state's chief prosecutor continues to lament that he can't get
as tough as he wants to be on public corruption because his hands are tied by
the legislature. For their part, lawmakers continue using their creative juices
to search for bypasses in ethics laws and freedom of information laws.
Failure to prosecute and the endless manufacturing of excuses for bad behavior
are the green lights for corruption. Whether corruption is petty or major
shouldn't matter. It's bad because it robs the taxpayers.
Only scoundrels dismiss certain wrongful acts as "minor" or bend the
rules by rationalizing that "everybody does it."
The lack of a decisive response to wrongdoing has contributed to the woeful
lack of the public's trust in their government.