June 30, 2006
ATTORNEY GENERAL-DUTIES AND POWERS
By: George Coppolo, Chief Attorney
You asked what duties and powers the law confers on the attorney general.
The Office of Attorney General was established by the legislature in 1897. The constitution requires a general election for attorney general every four years. This requirement was added to the constitution in 1974. The constitution does not impose any duties or confer any powers on the attorney general.
The statutes gives the attorney general supervision over all legal matters in which the state is an interested party, except those over which prosecuting officers have direction. The law requires the attorney general to appear for the state, the governor and other constitutional officers, all heads of departments and state boards, commissioners, and other specified state officials and entities in all suits and other civil proceedings.
There are hundreds of other statutes that confer explicit authority or a duty on the attorney general regarding specific laws and programs. We have provided a few examples.
The state Supreme Court recently concluded unanimously that the Office of the Attorney General is a creature of statute that is governed by statute and, thus, has no common-law authority (Blumenthal v. Barnes, 261 Conn. 434 (Aug 20, 2002)).
OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL
The General Assembly established the Office of the Attorney General in 1897 (Public Acts 1897, c. 191, § 1 (P.A. 191), which is now codified as CGS § 3-124).
Article Fourth, § 1 of the Connecticut Constitution requires that a general election for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of the state, treasurer, comptroller, and attorney general be held on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November, 1974 and every four years thereafter. This section derives from Article Fourth, § 1(governor), § 3 (lieutenant governor), § 17(treasurer), § 18 (the secretary of the state), and § 19 (comptroller) of the constitution of 1818. The attorney general was added to this provision in 1974.
HISTORY OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE
The Supreme Court had occasion to describe the history of the attorney general's office in the Blumenthal v. Barnes (261 Conn. 434 (2002)). The following was taken directly from that description.
The office of the attorney general principally was established in response to the spiraling legal costs incurred by the various state departments (citing the Hartford Daily Courant, May 15, 1897, p. 12).
Before the establishment of the office, each state agency and department had retained its own legal counsel to represent it, and thus the state, in legal matters pertaining to the respective agency or department.
According to the sponsor of the legislation establishing the office of the attorney general, the comptroller and nine state departments, boards, and commissions collectively incurred at least $15,000 in legal expenses in 1896. Representative Harry E. Back estimated that the legal expenses of all of the state departments amounted to $25,000 annually. Representative Samuel Frisbie best summarized the purpose behind the proposed legislation when he stated: "I know of no single better way for saving money than the creating of this office." (Also see the Hartford Daily Times, May 21, 1897, p. 3 claiming that creation of office of attorney general would result in decrease in legal expenses of state departments).
GENERAL DUTIES OR POWERS (CGS § 3-125)
The law requires the attorney general to appoint a deputy, to perform all the duties of the attorney general in case of his sickness or absence, and to appoint such other assistants as he deems necessary, subject to the governor's approval. The law authorizes the attorney general to appoint up to four associate attorneys general who serve at his pleasure and who are exempt from the classified service (CGS § 3-125).
General Powers and Duties (CGS § 3-125)
The law gives the attorney general supervision over all legal matters in which the state is an interested party, except those over which prosecuting officers have direction. The law requires the attorney general to appear for the state, the governor, the lieutenant governor, the secretary of the state, the treasurer, the comptroller, and for all heads of departments and state boards, commissioners, agents, inspectors, committees, auditors, chemists, directors, harbor masters, and institutions and for the state librarian in all suits and other civil proceedings. But it explicitly exempts matters involving criminal recognizances and bail bonds, in which the state is a party or is interested, or in which the official acts and doings of said officers are called in question.
The attorney general must appear for members of the state House of Representatives and the state Senate in all suits and other civil proceedings brought against them involving their official acts in the discharge of their duties as legislators, in any court or other tribunal, as the duties of his office require; and all such suits shall be conducted by him or under his direction.
The law also requires that when any measure affecting the State Treasury is pending before any General Assembly committee, the committee must give the attorney general reasonable notice of the pendency of such measure, and requires the attorney general to appear and take whatever action he deems to be for the state's best interests.
The attorney general must represent the public interest in the protection of any gifts, legacies, or devises intended for public or charitable purposes.
All writs, summonses, or other processes served upon such officers and legislators must be transmitted by them to the attorney general. All suits or other proceedings by such officers must be brought by the attorney general or under his direction.
The law requires the attorney general, when required by either house of the General Assembly or when requested by the president pro tempore of the Senate, the speaker of the House of Representatives, or the majority leader or the minority leader of the Senate or House of Representatives, to give his opinion upon questions of law submitted to him by either house or any of these leaders. He must advise or give his opinion to the head of any executive department or any state board or commission upon any question of law submitted to him. He may procure whatever assistance he may require.
Whenever a trustee, under the provisions of any charitable trust, is required by statute to give a bond for the performance of his duties as trustee, the attorney general may cause a petition to be lodged with the probate court of the district in which such trust property is situated, or where any of the trustees reside, for the fixing, accepting, and approving of a bond to the state, conditioned for the proper discharge of the duties of such trust, which bond shall be filed in the office of such probate court.
The attorney general must prepare a topical and chronological cross-index of all legal opinions issued by the Office of the Attorney General and shall, from time to time, update it.
Other Statutory Duties and Powers
We identified over 500 statutes that refer to the attorney general. Many of these impose specific duties or confer certain powers. We have summarized a few below.
The attorney general is authorized to:
1. bring an action in the superior court to recover a penalty for a violation of the law involving third party fees in investments by the treasurer or quasi-public agencies (CGS §§ 3-13j and l);
2. investigate and, with the approval of the governor, take such action as is deemed necessary to protect the state from damage by diversion or other interference with water from streams without the state which enter or are tributary to streams flowing within the state (CGS § 3-126);
3. proceed against healing arts practitioners accused of obtaining licenses through misrepresentation (CGS § 3-129);
4. institute civil proceedings to forfeit the charter of corporations engaged in gambling, selling drugs, extortion, or certain other crimes (CGS § 3-129a);
5. when directed by the Governor, institute legal proceedings in any court or before any commission or committee of any state or of the United States to obtain the establishment and maintenance of just and reasonable rates for transportation of fuel and other articles and commodities by railroad and by vessels and to compel common carriers to establish, apply, and observe just and reasonable rules, classifications, and practices in connection with such transportation (CGS § 3-130);
6. bring a civil action on behalf of the state against any tobacco product manufacturer that fails to place into escrow the funds required by law (CGS § 4-28j);
7. institute a proceeding to enforce any order imposing a civil penalty in connection with the set-aside program for small contractors, minority business enterprises, individuals with disabilities and nonprofit corporations (CGS § 4a-60g);
8. provide for the defense of any state officer, employee or member sued for negligence or for depriving someone of their civil rights (CGS § 5-141d);
9. bring suit, with the revenue commissioner's permission, to collect state imposed taxes (CGS § 12-387a); and
10. bring a lawsuit at the public health commissioner's request, to enjoin any person, association, organization, corporation, institution, or agency, public or private, from maintaining a family day care home without a license(CGS § 17-587).