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Connecticut Governor Must Testify

The state high court orders him to answer to a legislative panel weighing impeachment.

June 19, 2004|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Friday that Gov. John G. Rowland must testify before a legislative committee considering his impeachment, and lawmakers said he could be summoned to appear as early as Monday.

The 5-2 decision in Hartford by the state high court makes the three-term Republican the first sitting chief executive in U.S. history to be ordered to appear before a legislative body.

Rowland, who also is the subject of a federal corruption probe, has been under scrutiny since January for accepting gifts from friends, state contractors and employees. The list of items the governor has acknowledged receiving includes sporting event tickets, vacations and a hot tub at his country home.

The 47-year-old Rowland has steadily insisted that he has provided no political favors in return for the gifts and that his office was never compromised. But investigators say the governor rewarded his benefactors with government contracts and other benefits.

In upholding a decision by a lower court judge, the state Supreme Court rejected Rowland's argument that he had absolute immunity and that compelling him to testify would violate the doctrine of separation of powers in the state constitution.

"We are obviously disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision," Rowland's counsel, Ross Garber, said in a statement Friday. Garber spoke on behalf of the governor, who declined to comment.

Garber said it was unfortunate that the committee investigating Rowland "forced this unprecedented and unnecessary conflict between our branches of government."

The hearings before the Connecticut Legislature's Select Committee of Inquiry have grown so contentious that one of Rowland's lawyers stormed out of the chambers last week after lambasting the panel for the way it presented evidence. The 10-member panel is made up equally of Democrats and Republicans and has two chairmen -- one from each party.

If the committee recommended the articles of impeachment, the full House would vote whether to approve. If the House voted to impeach, Rowland would be required to step aside during a Senate trial and his duties would be taken over by Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell. The committee must take action by June 30.

Democratic Rep. Mike Lawlor, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Friday that he expected the governor to be called to testify Monday or Tuesday. He noted that when the proceedings began this year, Rowland stated repeatedly that he was eager to testify. But, Lawlor said, he expected the governor to risk contempt charges and decline to appear, rather than subject himself to possibly incriminating statements that could be used in federal proceedings.

State Democratic Party Chairman George Jepsen on Friday called the choices open to the governor "an end game, in the sense that he will of course refuse to testify. His choice will be to incriminate himself, and pleading the Fifth Amendment is not palatable. I think what he is going to do is just not show up." Rowland's goal, said Jepsen, "is paint this as a kangaroo court."

A poll released June 3 by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut showed that 88% of state voters wanted the governor to appear before the select committee. The same poll found that 69% of those surveyed thought Rowland should resign, and 57% thought the state House of Representatives should vote to impeach him.

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