New Haven City Clerk Michael Smart filed a request on Nov. 9 for $15,000 from the city government to fund potential legal services in light of recent claims that Deputy City Clerk Sally Brown falsified official documents, according to a letter obtained by the News and addressed to Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker.
Although there is an ongoing investigation into the matter, Smart was told in September that unless he reinstated Brown he would not be given legal representation by the city. The $15,000 would be used to hire his own legal services.
“It has become clear that the City Clerk’s Office will need to retain its own legal counsel,” Smart wrote in his request. “The City Clerk’s Office has been told that it cannot depend on the Corporation Counsel to represent the department in an important pending matter, which includes an investigation into the conduct of a staffer by the State Elections Enforcement Commission under the Secretary of State.”
In April, Smart placed Brown on indefinite paid leave following an internal office investigation that led Smart to believe that Brown had purposefully signed off on documents that required his signature. A number of those documents pertained to the April presidential primary election.
Smart later received a letter from Christopher Neary, the city’s deputy Corporation Counsel, on Sept. 13 urging him to reinstate Brown and warning that a failure to comply would result in the counsel’s denial of city legal representation in the case of ensuing litigation. Despite the letter, Smart has not reinstated Brown.
In August, after the internal investigation, Smart filed a complaint to the Secretary of State, which led the State Elections Enforcement Commission to launch an investigation into the matter on Oct. 12. Smart’s recent letter cites both the counsel’s earlier denial to represent him and the SEEC investigation as grounds for his request for legal funds.
Niether Smart nor his lawyer Norm Pattis responded to requests for comment.
The funding request was brought before a Board of Alders meeting on Nov. 10 and was then sent to the Board of Alders’ Finance Committee for further review. The committee will meet on Dec. 12, when they could issue a recommendation to the Board of Alders to either approve or deny the request.
Despite Smart’s request for legal funds, it remains unclear whether he expects pending litigation. Currently, there are no active litigation suits in Connecticut.
It is also unclear whether the corporation counsel’s September letter still applies, now that the SEEC has initiated an investigation.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer declined to comment on behalf of the Corporation Counsel’s office, citing the city’s policy to withhold comment on concerns of potential litigation. He also declined to comment on City Hall’s standing in relation to the Counsel’s refusal of service. He referred all inquiries on the matter to the city clerk’s office.
In October, SEEC spokesman Joshua Foley told the News that the SEEC decided to investigate in order to determine whether or not there had been a violation of election law. He emphasized that the decision to investigate Smart’s complaint was not an indication of the allegations’ validity.
Smart’s complaint accused Brown of purposeful misconduct and further alleged that she attempted to conceal her actions.
“Ms. Brown did sign and approve official documents, misrepresenting her authority as if she were in fact the municipal clerk on multiple occasions on a variety of documents,” the complaint reads. “Brown then deliberately withheld information from the municipal clerk, in attempting to conceal and cover up her unilateral and unauthorized actions.”
The complaint goes on to cite an investigative meeting on April 7 between Smart, Brown and her union representative in which Brown admitted to signing a September 2015 invoice, one of the items Smart said required his authorization. Smart’s complaint also states that Brown recognized her knowledge of an email Smart sent to clerical staff on Jan. 6, 2014, in which he allegedly instructed staff that invoices and procurements for the clerk’s office needed his signature.
Smart claims that Brown offered no defense and acknowledged that she should not have signed the invoice. However, a May 4 New Haven Independent article quotes Brown refuting all claims of misconduct.
“As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t do anything wrong,” Brown told the Independent.
Brown’s lawyer John Gesmonde told the News in October that Brown never signed anyone else’s name but her own as deputy city clerk. He said Brown’s job description, which charges her with the daily running of the clerk’s office, is sufficient evidence to disprove Smart’s allegations.
He went on to cite the Corporation Counsel’s letter as evidence that the allegations are unsound. He called the letter “extremely compelling” and said the job description and the letter alone clear Brown of any wrongdoing.
The city clerk’s office is located at 200 Orange St.