AG refuses DSS lawsuit against advocates, supports free speech rights

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In a very strongly worded letter, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal rejected DSS Commissioner Mike Starkowski’s request to hire outside attorneys to sue three legal aid lawyers, Sheldon Toubman of New Haven Legal Assistance, Jamey Bell of Greater Hartford Legal Aid, and Randi Mezzy of CT Legal Services. The lawyers sent a letter to each of the six registered potential bidders for the combined HUSKY and Charter Oak programs describing their responsibilities to consumers under the law. The lawyers also sent a copy of the letter to DSS. The Commissioner asked the AG to hire outside lawyers to sue the lawyers for “tortious interference” with the bidding process. The AG’s response denying DSS’ request was unequivocal. He said that not only would DSS’ suit likely fail, but that it could open the state and state officials to costly lawsuits for constitutional free speech violations. He notes that “leveraging the power and resources of state government to sue public interest lawyers, based on their advocacy on behalf of economically disadvantaged Medicaid recipients, could be regarded as chilling free speech rights. Your lawsuit could reasonably be perceived as an attempt to prevent public discourse concerning the proper administration of a vital and expensive public program affecting hundreds of thousands of our neediest residents, in violation of constitutional rights to free speech.” He continues, “These countervailing concerns, touching on core democratic liberties that all public officials must seek to preserve, counsel the greatest restraint when considering legal action potentially chilling or discouraging these Legal Services Attorneys, or anyone else.” Advocates’ civil liberties are secure.

Posted by Ellen Andrews