Divorce has cost Trumbull resident Dan Lynch a lot more than a life partner — it has cost him his business, his physical and mental health, and his faith in the judicial system.
Perhaps most important, the legal situation cost him time — almost a decade’s worth of it, more than 15 times the average period for such a matter.
Lynch, who has been seeking an opportunity to sue, among others, Connecticut’s Statewide Grievance Committee and the Judiciary Department over alleged attorney and judicial misconduct for the last seven years, received some long-awaited good news from the House of Representatives and Connecticut State Senate Tuesday, May 3.
In the final hours of this year’s legislative session, the Connecticut General Assembly granted a rare reversal enabling Lynch to recover damages — he is seeking in excess of $55 million in damages in his federal complaint which will now be amended to include additional defendants and claims — resulting from his 2009 divorce and related actions in Bridgeport.
To the extent allowed by law, he noted certain claims allow for treble damages, so the damage awards could be substantially higher.
“In the end, it’s a very emotional victory,” Lynch told The Times Friday. “I don’t get back my clean record, I don’t get back all the time I’ve spent researching and responding to these cases, but now I can continue my pursuit for justice and make sure that this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”
Lynch, a former member of Trumbull’s Economic Development Commission, said his claim for damages derives, in part, from a decision by several state officials that include Bridgeport Family Court Judge Howard T. Owens who put him in jail for an allegation of contempt.
His own attorney at that time, Trumbull resident Daniel Portanova failed to show for that 2009 hearing. Opposing counsel, Stanley Goldstein, lied and misrepresented other facts before Judge Owens.
“Even after Owens found and stated on the record his concerns that my former wife had taken it upon herself to change the court orders and that he couldn’t find me in contempt, he ultimately acquiesced to Goldstein’s demands and ordered that I be immediately incarcerated,” Lynch explained.
He said that Connecticut employees later allowed Goldstein to resign from the bar, despite pending disciplinary actions being prosecuted by the state from a litany of Fairfield County complaints.
“There were several people after him for doing the same thing he did to me — falsify records, making knowingly false statements, producing fake exhibits,” Lynch said of the attorney who represented his wife in the case.
Goldstein, whose practice was based in Trumbull and was a longtime Monroe resident, had been on an earlier one-year disciplinary probation ordered by the same court in Bridgeport. He resigned in 2012 in the midst of four grievance complaints that were being prosecuted by the state’s Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel. His resignation was accepted by Bridgeport’s Presiding Civil Judge, Barbara N. Bellis, even though Goldstein was not present to attest to the authenticy of the letter or be questioned about its contents.
“They bent over backwards to protect this attorney, especially after people began to have the guts to speak out against him,” he explained. “He violated every rule and made a career out of doing it — he had sanctions against him beginning in 1996 and yet he continued to practice with attorney misconduct even while he was under probation.”
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Just one day before the end of the legislative session, the Senate voted unanimously on consent (36–0) to vacate an earlier dismissal of claims brought by the 54-year-old Trumbull resident against the state of Connecticut in 2013.
The original claim, filed by Lynch with the Office of the Claims Commissioner, was dismissed by former Commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr. in 2015. Lynch then sought review of that dismissal by the General Assembly as provided for by Connecticut General Statute 4-159.
“In order to sue the state, you have to file claims with the claims commissioner and the state has to grant you permission, otherwise you can’t sue them,” said Lynch, who moved to the Tashua section of Trumbull in 1994. “It’s exceptionally rare for the state to allow itself to be sued, and in my case, they didn’t at first, but I presented my case to the General Assembly and asked them to review the facts and their decision was a resounding ‘yes’ to overturn the original ruling.”
The matter was first reviewed at public hearing by the Judiciary Committee, which later voted 38–7 in favor of reversal.
Rep. William Tong (D-Stamford), chairman of the committee, noted that Lynch’s testimony was compelling.
“He has suffered a great deal over the past few years … and we think [his] claims and his story merit further examination and … we think there’s an important public purpose in doing so,” he said.
Tong publicly praised the longtime Trumbull resident for his respectful approach and sincerity while proposing reforms to the judicial system.
“I, for one, appreciate Mr. Lynch’s approach on issues that are difficult and emotional and thank him for his consideration,” noted Tong on March 30, 2016, just moments before the Judiciary Committee voted overwhelmingly in support of reversal.
Sen. John A. Kissel (R-7th District) added similar supporting remarks, as did Rep. Minnie Gonzalez (D-Hartford).
“This has been a terribly difficult and life-changing ordeal,” Lynch acknowledged.
Prior to his 2009 divorce, which was overturned on appeal, he said had no prior experience with the law or the United States legal system, but is now an outspoken advocate for much-needed reform.
“Our state courts have been poisoned by a relatively small group of dishonest attorneys who game the system to increase billings at the expense of the clients they are supposedly representing,” he said. “Even worse, the mechanisms allegedly in place for review of attorney and judicial misconduct have been covering up obvious malfeasance for decades … hiding behind a range of immunities if challenged in court.”
Among the most important aspects of the General Assembly’s decision to vacate the claims commissioner’s dismissal, Lynch will now be able to pursue his claims without facing a defense of sovereign immunity, which often protects the state or state actors.
“The state was so concerned about saving this attorney that they accepted his resignation without him even present in the courtroom, which is highly unusual,” Lynch said, noting Goldstein was golfing in North Carolina when the disciplinary hearing was held in Middletown Superior Court regarding the four grievances pending against him. “Once the resignation went through the state claimed there was no jurisdiction and they immediately dismissed all pending grievances.”
Citing precedent that stemmed from a Greenwich case where an attorney was found to have committed fraud, but was protected by the doctrine of absolute immunity, Lynch noted, “The Connecticut Supreme Court case of Simms v. Seaman prevents me from seeking recovery against Goldstein because he was opposing counsel, so the grievance process was my only avenue of recovery and the court knew that.”
Lynch, who served as a volunteer soccer and lacrosse coach in town, is an award-winning author and internationally recognized genealogist and lecturer, having volunteered his services at both the Trumbull and Bridgeport libraries on many occasions.
He said his only other court appearances before the divorce were for speeding tickets. He never imagined when he and his wife set out to separate that it would result in a decade of loss, as well as time behind bars.
“That day forever changed my life,” he recalled about being sentenced to jail with a $2,500 bond. “I had to tell my daughters what had happened. How do you ever recover from that?”
It’s been a long, brutal road for the Trumbull resident, but he believes the end is in sight with the most recent hurdle cleared.
“To this day, I don’t know why the judge looked the other way, but I’m intent on exposing this informal network of judges and attorneys and making sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else because it has cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars and it has brought my business to its knees,” he told The Times. “It has impacted my physical and mental health; it destroyed my life in every facet.
“The more I pressed, the more they retaliated against me,” he added. “I’m just glad someone is finally listening to the facts and letting me present my case.”