Did Former Corporation Counsel John Rose Behave Inappropriately When He Accepted A Position At A Local Law Firm?
January 03, 2011
The Hartford Ethics Commission is reviewing a formal complaint filed against former Corporation Counsel John Rose, alleging that the city’s former top attorney behaved inappropriately when he accepted a position at a local law firm, Crumbie Law Groups Llc., after leaving office.
During his time with the city, Rose oversaw the awarding of $462,562 worth of legal contracting work to Crumbie Law Groups, according to figures provided by the Corporation Counsel’s office. Rose then accepted a position with that firm shortly after he resigned under pressure from new mayor Pedro Segarra in the summer of 2010.
The complaint, filed by sitting Councilman Larry Deutsch, alleges that Rose violated several aspects of the city’s ethics code when he signed on with Crumbie. Deutsch said his complaint was prompted by conversations with his constituents who were reacting to news reports — Rose’s new position has been reported previously by local NPR affiliate WNPR, and area blogs.
Deutsch says the appearance of impropriety is as troubling to him as any actual violation of the ethics code.
“The whole state has been labeled as corrupt, and many of the cities too … I think this needs an investigation,” says Deutsch. “The lack of trust can be a great loss to the city ethically, financially and in fairness to all who live in or do business with the city.”
Neither Rose nor Andrew Crumbie, the firm’s founder, returned calls and e-mail messages seeking comment.
Deutsch initially alerted the ethics commission to his concerns in a letter dated Dec. 14. At that time, he asked only that commissioners offer their opinion on whether Rose’s behavior constituted an ethical violation, a function delegated to the all-volunteer panel under the city’s municipal code.
In addition to his questions about Rose, Deutsch also asked for the commission’s opinion on the current employment of two other former city officials. Deutsch told the Advocate that he may ask for an investigation of yet another name in the near future.
In a letter dated December 22, Deutsch upped the ante, and filed a formal complaint, alleging Rose’s violation of six separate provisions of the ethics code. The allegations fall generally under the heading of conflict of interest.
Deutsch’s complaint contains virtually no corroborating documentation, and the charges he is alleging are complex. Deutsch acknowledged to the Advocate that it’s unclear if the ethics code applies to the allegations.
Under the city’s ethics code, former officers are “prohibited from representing for compensation any persons in their business with the City for two (2) years after the end of their service.” Deutsch’s complaint offers no evidence that Rose has represented anyone in their dealings with the city since leaving office.
Deutsch said that if the ethics code doesn’t explicitly bar former officials from taking a job with companies they have previously patronized, it should. Deutsch noted that the ethics code for Connecticut state-level officials does explicitly prohibit that kind of behavior.
Bobsie Ness, who chairs the city’s ethics commission, said Deutsch’s initial request for an investigation fell short of a formal complaint, but that the differences between the two are mostly semantic. Bobsie said the commission discussed Deutsch’s initial letter in open session at their Dec. 14 meeting, and had already begun to look into the councilman’s allegations when the formal complaint came through.
Speaking in general terms, Ness said she believes the city’s ethics code does clearly address the issue of “revolving door” employment, but declined to comment on the merit of Deutsch’s allegations.
Ness said the next step in the process would be for the commission to do its initial inquiry into the charges, and determine whether there was probable cause to refer the matter to outside counsel for a full vetting, a procedure spelled out in the city’s ethics code.
“In general, not speaking specifically about this case, it’s up to the commission to determine whether outside counsel is necessary. In some cases it is, and in some cases it’s not,” says Ness. If the commission determines that there is probable cause, an independent attorney will be hired to take the case further. She said the panel had a list of three firms available to perform the work, and the Crumbie group is not among them.
Penalties provided in the ethics code range from fines, to termination of employment, suspension without pay, and/or censure. No specific penalties or fines are spelled out. The commission can also refer cases to law enforcement agencies if there is evidence of illegal activity.
Rose isn’t the only former official accepting work from an organization that receives city funding. WNPR and other news sources reported earlier this year that former Mayor Eddie Perez — Rose’s old boss — took a consulting job with the Connecticut AIDS Resource Council shortly after leaving office in disgrace following a corruption scandal.
According to city documents, over the past three years, the CARC has been awarded a total of $419,132 in grant funds through the federal Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) program. Those funds are distributed through the city, and awarded to local AIDS advocacy groups based in part on the mayor’s direct recommendations, before being approved by the full council.
The most recent grant to CARC was approved by the city council on May 10. Perez resigned little more than a month later, on June 26.
Perez was convicted of two felony counts and received an eight-year sentence, suspended after three years, which means he’ll only actually serve three years in prison. Perez is appealing the decision, and is currently free on an appeal bond, the equivalent of bail in the appellate system. His attorney Hubert Santos estimated that the mayor’s appeal will take about a year and a half to make its way through the courts, during which time Perez will remain a free man.
Perez did not return calls for comment as of press time. A CARC official also did not return calls for comment, and it could not be verified exactly when Perez began consulting work for the organization.