Ethics hearing continued, attorneys argue complaint politically-motivated

A hearing on an ethics complaint filed against a town elected official was continued Thursday night, after a more than hour-long executive session.

The complaint, submitted Jan. 14, by Town Auditor James Henderson alleges Board of Finance Democrat Tom Kelly, violated a section of the Trumbull Code of Ethics by questioning Henderson’s competency and past work experience. Kelly’s comments were made at a October Board of Education meeting — of which Kelly was an elected member at the time (See original story.)

Kelly’s legal counsel is seeking a court order that would require Henderson and First Selectman Timothy Herbst to submit documents they claim are related to the complaint. Kelly’s attorney said they believe that a thorough investigation will reveal the complaint was a politically-motivated attack on Kelly’s reputation.

When the Ethics Commission came out of executive session Thursday night, Chairman Thomas Lee explained that there were several reasons that a continuance was requested, including that Kelly’s attorney, Bruce Elstein of Goldman, Gruder & Woods, was ill and unable to attend.

A new date hasn't been set.

Kelly was not at the meeting Thursday, but Stephen Wright, a former Board of Education chairman and also an attorney at Goldman, Gruder & Woods, filled in as Kelly’s counsel for procedural purposes. Auditor James Henderson and his legal representation were also present at the meeting.

Both Wright and Elstein spoke to The Times Friday, saying that paperwork was filed seeking a court order for information they’ve requested.

“We are trying to determine if the town attorney assisted in the authoring of that document,” Wright said of the ethics complaint. “Or if Tim assisted in writing that document.”

Elstein did not go into detail on the documents and information they are seeking.

“We have reasonable grounds to believe we are entitled to all information we requested,” Elstein said.

Herbst responded Friday, criticizing Kelly’s legal counsel for seeking what he described as attorney-client information that he believes is privileged.

“I was in no way involved in drafting that complaint,” Herbst said.

Kelly, an outspoken Democrat, has been a critic of the Herbst administration. He also manages an online forum and Facebook page called Eye on Trumbull.

“We think after a full and fair hearing not only will the charges prove inaccurate but show that the motivation was driven by political purposes,” Elstein said.

Private versus public

Kelly’s attorney has requested the hearing on the complaint to be held in private, citing a section of the Town Charter that allows it.

“We are not going to rule on that at this time,” Chairman Lee said Thursday night. “Counsel will give us advice on that.”

Herbst criticized that request Friday, citing the complaint, which alleges Kelly publicly questioned Henderson’s character and qualifications.

“Mr. Kelly does not feel his actions should be aired publicly, which is hypocritical,” Herbst said. “You’re a public official and if you did nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.”

Elstein said there are a few reasons they have requested a private hearing.

“We don’t believe the baseless complaint and defense we file should be aired in public,” Elstein said. “We are certainly not afraid to have the public know what we are doing and why. When someone’s moral ethics are being attacked it’s not something to be bandied about in public.”

Wright also criticized the complaint, saying it is an effort to use the Ethics Commission to go after political enemies.

“This is making a pure mockery of what is otherwise a very important tribunal,” Wright said.

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