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GOP lawmakers prosecute Connecticut’s COVID rules

HARTFORD, Connecticut – Since the coronavirus pandemic struck, a pair of politically conservative lawyers have become the go-to team for groups seeking to sue Connecticut for the school mask mandate, restrictions on bars and restaurants and other aspects of the governor’s emergency executive orders.

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

“It’s just weird to sue the state you represent, which you are duly elected to represent,” said Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, a Hartford Democrat and private lawyer. “I would not change the status. Personally, I wouldn’t sue the state of Connecticut as a lawyer, as a legislator. “

Dubitsky’s private and public roles appeared to overlap last month when a woman testifying before the Tory Legislature caucus accused him of berating her because she and other relatives failed to ‘bring 100’. $ 000 ”to hire his law firm to challenge a vaccination warrant for the university. students from Connecticut.

Dubitsky, who declined to discuss the woman’s claim, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he and Fishbein were not doing anything wrong and dealing with cases that other lawyers would avoid for fear of repercussions. policies.

“There are tons of lawyers there, but people are scared. Lawyers are afraid. Everyone is afraid to say anything more, to say the wrong thing or to lift their head for fear of being cut, ”he said. “And there aren’t many of us who are ready to stand up for what’s right.”

It is not uncommon for state lawmakers to sue their own governor and state agencies over issues related to the pandemic. Most of the cases, however, have not involved lawmakers who are also private attorneys paid by clients to sue the state. A spokesperson for the National Conference of State Legislatures said it can be difficult to know how many legislatures, if any, might consider this a conflict of interest.

After a review requested by a lawyer from the Republican House Caucus, the Connecticut State Ethics Office issued an informal opinion in July 2020. It concluded that it was permissible for a legislator, in his or her capacity. of private lawyer, to sue the State, to challenge the constitutionality of certain decrees of the governor.

Peter Lewandowski, executive director of the Connecticut State Ethics Office, said lawsuits do not represent ethical violations for part-time lawmakers under the state’s code of ethics as long as they don’t ” not abuse their elected position, for example by promising to change laws for a client later.

“There are already guardrails in place,” he said. However, if the legislature ever decides to become a full-time body, Lewandowski said: “That obviously makes a difference.”

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

Recently, Dubitsky and Fishbein sued the governor and law enforcement on behalf of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League gun rights group, questioning the constitutionality of pandemic delays in taking necessary fingerprints. for the purchase of firearms. They also challenged Lamont’s orders on behalf of owners, restaurant and bar owners, and a woman who was fined for violating the now-defunct pandemic travel ban. In addition, they represented the Connecticut Freedom Alliance, which unsuccessfully challenged the governor’s mandate over the school mask.

Dubitsky said these potential clients do not seek him and Fishbein because of their legislative positions, noting that they are part of the minority party and neither have a leadership role. “We are about as low as possible,” he said. Fishbein, who referred questions about the prosecution to Dubitsky, is the Republican House’s top member of the judiciary committee.

Dubitsky said he receives daily calls from potential clients, including some “frenzied about how their lives are being destroyed by governor’s orders,” especially his recent call demanding that state and government employees other workers are vaccinated or tested regularly.

Although Dubitsky was unwilling to discuss how much they were paid, he said he and Fishbein had “significantly reduced” their rates for some clients and provided free legal aid for others.

“Obviously we do this for a living, so we have to get paid,” he admitted.