Talat Aman and Zoe Berg

Over the past year, Attorney General William Tong has been busy filing a litany of lawsuits on behalf of the state of Connecticut against the Trump Administration and corporations like ExxonMobil.

On Wednesday night, Tong hosted a virtual town hall with State Rep. Mike D’Agostino to discuss these lawsuits and other topics pertinent to Connecticut residents. Tong, who occupies Connecticut’s top civil law enforcement position, addressed about two dozen viewers over a Facebook livestream. 

Tong started with his most recent legal action against ExxonMobil, followed by litigation against the Trump Administration and the postmaster general and finally OxyContin producer Purdue Pharma. But in light of the recent passing of Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, talks between Tong and D’Agostino began with a focus on the foreseeable future of the courts.

“As a lawyer and as an attorney general and a citizen, this is a very dangerous time in the law and the institution of the court, given what is about to happen in the U.S. Senate and the fight that is about to come,” Tong said on Wednesday. “All roads lead to the Supreme Court.”

Tong explained that many of his own cases in Connecticut had eventually landed in federal court. The first case he and D’Agostino discussed was Connecticut’s lawsuit against ExxonMobil, which his office filed on Sept. 14. He alleges that ExxonMobil has been deceiving consumers about its detrimental effects on the climate for decades.

Specifically, he referred to how ExxonMobil scientists have publicly acknowledged the imminent threats posed by fossil fuels on multiple occasions –– since at least 1988.

“ExxonMobil has waged a decades-long campaign of deception,” Tong said. “I’m suing ExxonMobil because they knew about climate change. They knew about climate science … they knew about the warming planet, the rising seas, the effects on the food supply … and they lied.”

Tong and D’Agostino continued by discussing the Kentucky grand jury’s decision to not indict the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor. The two officials expressed their discontent with the decision and criticized the lack of a civil rights division in the Connecticut Attorney General’s office.

D’Agostino and Tong also spoke about their past combined efforts to expand the civil rights capabilities of the office. Tong explained that he sees Taylor’s murder as one of many instances of police brutality against Black Americans.

In 2015, Tong supported an Act Concerning the Excessive Use of Force in the Connecticut House of Representatives. The law requires the Division of Criminal Justice — an independent executive branch agency — to start investigations when police officers use deadly force during an arrest. It also calls on police departments to develop guidelines to recruit minority officers.

Tong emphasized the importance of his own position as the state attorney general –– his office is staffed by over 200 attorneys and has the ability to make use of state resources when tackling civil rights cases. In the past, he said, police brutality cases such as Taylor’s could be lost if lawyers were not properly equipped to take them on.

“What happened to Breonna Taylor is an example of one of the worst injustices that I can recall hearing about,” Tong said. “It’s hard to fathom and get your head around those facts. I think all of us want to see justice to be done in KY.”

According to D’Agostino, Tong’s ability to cultivate relationships with other attorney generals has also contributed to his success. 

As the day of the U.S. 2020 presidential election draws closer, election security has also been at the forefront of Tong’s concerns. Last month, he joined a multi-state lawsuit suing the Trump Administration’s attempt to undermine the U.S. Postal Service. Tong said that Connecticut residents had received absentee ballots after the day of the primary election and that many have missed important paychecks, child support payments and medicine.

Last week, in a victory for Tong and the other plaintiff states, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Postal Service and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to halt all policy changes suspected of causing delays in mail.

But on Wednesday night, President Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. Though Tong has taken on Trump’s administration in multiple lawsuits, the power of law in this situation may not suffice –– according to Linda Greenhouse, a New York Times reporter who covers the Supreme Court.

“The peaceful transfer of power is the very essence of democracy,” Greenhouse told the News on Thursday. “If that doesn’t happen, I’m afraid the courts can’t save us.”

The two speakers then moved onto discussing how the attorney general has used his office to fight utility companies Eversource and United Illuminating in order to protect ratepayers. In July, customers saw bills skyrocketing. Damage from Tropical Storm Isaias in early August left many public utility recipients in the dark for up to a week.

“They are supposed to be there for us and act for people,” Tong said. “I do think they have a duty to their shareholders, but they also have a duty to us. The utilities have the legal duty to ratepayers, because it’s not just about their bottom line and how much money they can make.”

After explaining his fight for Connecticut consumers, Tong connected this to his fight for the people of Connecticut as a whole — specifically those harmed by the opioid crisis. He said he was continuing to demand more financial compensation from Purdue’s Sackler family, as he believed the current $4.5 billion settlement did not sufficiently make up for damage Purdue had caused.

The evening ended with Tong explaining his personal stake in his continuous lawsuits against the Trump administration. He said that like D’Agostino’s parents and grandparents, his family faced economic hardship and threats to personal safety. Therefore, Tong said he saw Trump’s attacks on immigrants and undocumented families as an attack on his own family.

Tong is the first Asian Pacific American attorney general in Connecticut state history.
Talat Aman | talat.aman@yale.edu