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Lamont's port authority spending lavishly in FOI fight

I was startled, when I turned up at a Freedom of Information Commission hearing room Thursday for an airing of one of my FOI requests, to see the Connecticut Port Authority had sent not one or two, but three lawyers.

I've seen rich guys charged with murder show up with fewer lawyers.

The legal trio was there to argue against full disclosure of their bills to the port authority, which total many hundreds of thousands of dollars. The printed stack of bills is 18 inches tall.

For a meeting of the commission the week before, on another of my FOI requests, the port authority sent two lawyers. I noticed, on one of hundreds of heavily redacted bills from the mega law firm Robinson + Cole, a single six-minute phone call regarding an FOI request of the port authority cost taxpayers $90.

The hearing Thursday — one of the three lawyers there bills the authority at $450 an hour — had to cost thousands of dollars, and that doesn't include the many hours billed for redacting the bills, nor a long legal brief trying to defend those redactions.

One of the lawyers testified Thursday that redacting is an art, not a science. It's the art of concealment, I'd say.

The lawyers were ordered Thursday to create an index giving legal reasons for each of the thousands of redactions. Ka-ching.

Gov. Ned Lamont might need to dedicate one of his proposed toll gantries just to pay Robinson + Cole lawyers.

I am not a lawyer, but I believe the FOI commission, in its wisdom, will almost certainly eliminate most, if not all, of the redactions. The ridiculous legal justification for them — that they reveal legal strategy — seems unlikely to sway commissioners.

Many of the bills are for routine matters that shouldn't have been done by expensive lawyers in the first place, like hundreds of dollars to draft a meeting agenda.

But the way Robinson + Cole has dug in, a decision ordering the redactions on the bills lifted might just start the legal expense clock spinning on a long and profitable appeal to Superior Court. It also would mean months or maybe years of delay, which I guess is the point.

Of course, the fight against letting the public see the port authority's legal bills is just one of many pending before the commission, lots more stonewalling expensively enabled by the lawyers.

Apparently, there's still more corruption to hide. It was Robinson + Cole lawyers who, even after the governor had moved to take control of the scandal-ridden port authority, drafted a hush payment deal offered to a fired office manager, worded to specifically keep her from talking to the news media.

This is Ned Lamont's Connecticut.

Even at last Thursday's hearing, authority Chairman David Kooris and his lawyers refused to disclose any information about what they said are legal actions involving the port authority in New York and administrative claims pending before Connecticut agencies.

There was a gaggle of lawyers, each charging hundreds of dollars an hour, scheming to hide things even a New London schoolchild would tell you should be public.

I have been trying for more than a week to obtain a copy of the executed agreement with Gateway Terminal for the operation of New London's port. They should be able to send it with a few keystrokes. What could more obviously be a public document?

So there is more FOI defiance, more FOI complaints on the horizon and I suppose more expensive lawyering to hide things the public clearly has a right to know.

The lead attorney at Thursday's hearing, Robinson + Cole partner Christopher Hug, confronted me in the hallway outside the hearing room after a commission meeting the week before, jabbing his finger at me and raising his voice.

He yelled at me for my telling commissioners that he was misleading in his argument before them about the port authority's compliance with my FOI request.

It's odd, because I thought lawyers were accustomed to being contradicted in arguments. I would think they would expect it.

And, after all, why be mad at me? I am helping keep the billable hours meter spinning at Robinson + Cole.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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