Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 says he is his own boss, with one huge modifier — he is constitutionally bound to decide “what is the right thing to do in enforcing the law.”
In a wide-ranging speech titled “Leadership Through Lawyering” on Monday, the Connecticut attorney general discussed the ways in which his office is empowered to protect and enforce the law. Addressing a crowd of 30 in the Yale Law School faculty lounge, Blumenthal discussed some of his achievements during his 19-year tenure, as well as some of the cases he is currently litigating and investigating. He also discussed conflicts between personal beliefs and the justice system, saying he tries to keep his own convictions separate from his official decisions.
Acting Law School Dean Kate Stith introduced Blumenthal as a living testament to the motto of the U.S. Department of Justice, “Qui Pro Domina Justitia Sequitur,” which, translated from Latin, means, “who prosecutes on behalf of justice.”
“He has done so much,” Stith said, “and we are so proud to have him as an alumnus of the Yale Law School.”
Blumenthal spent much of his lecture explaining the enforcement role of the attorney general — the idea that the attorney general primarily champions citizens’ rights rather than defends state agencies from legal action. The change in purpose, he said, is a fairly recent phenomenon brought on by the failing of the federal government.
“I swore an oath to support the constitution of the state of Connecticut,” Blumenthal said. “Our clients are the people of the state of Connecticut.”
In that capacity, Blumenthal said he has sought to investigate those who deceive state residents. He has recently investigated consumer fraud issues surrounding Acai berry diet products and privacy protection problems for MySpace. In particular, Blumenthal is noted for leading a landmark case against tobacco companies, in which several states sued Philip Morris for consumer fraud, among other infractions. The case ended in a massive settlement for states.
“My greatest achievement was going after the tobacco companies,” he said. “But my biggest disappointment is not being able to determine how the nearly $5 billion in settlement money allocated to Connecticut has been spent.” Only a tiny fraction of the money has gone to fighting tobacco usage and promoting public health, he added.
Answering an audience question, Blumenthal discussed instances in which his personal feelings threatened to influence his decisions. He said he could not remember a decision in which his office had to defend a morally abhorrent law, but acknowledged that there are times when he is somewhat uncomfortable defending the state. This happens, he said, almost exclusively in personal injury lawsuits in which the state is culpable. Usually, he said, these cases end in a settlement.
Blumenthal also discussed an ongoing investigation into “monopolistic and unfair” practices of the three major bond rating agencies: Standard & Poors, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings.
He said he blames much of the current financial crisis on the lack of regulation of these firms. He said they maintain a double standard — inflating the bond ratings of paying customers while deflating those of municipalities, all in complete disregard for the actual risk.
“Currently, the bond or securities issuer pays for the rating,” he said. “To use a baseball metaphor, the batter is paying the umpire to call balls and strikes.”
Justin Zaremby LAW ’10, one of the students at the talk, said he found Blumenthal’s discussion about the enterprising role of the state attorney general to be particularly interesting.
“It was really informative to learn about how attorneys general can take an active role in looking out for the interests of state residents,” he said.
Blumenthal said his office does more for the state than just protect residents from unfair practices — it also turns a profit. For every $1 spent by the Attorney General’s Office, he said, $13 is earned in the form of settlement payments.
Blumenthal was first elected in 1990 and is currently the most popular elected official in Connecticut, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.