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    Monday, July 22, 2024

    OPINION: Judge dismisses Kevin Blacker’s claim of vindictive prosecution

    It’s been four years that criminal charges have been pending against Kevin Blacker for painting two small defunct street signs in New London pink.

    Blacker, who sometime ago broke a longstanding stall in the prosecution with a motion for a speedy trial, was back in court Friday with an interesting legal argument that he has been vindictively prosecuted.

    But Judge Jassette A. Henry, a Gov. Ned Lamont judicial nominee, rejecting Blacker’s argument that the prosecution was vindictively pursued because of his activism and complaints about the closure of State Pier to traditional shipping, denied his motion to dismiss.

    I’d say Blacker, whose tips about wrongdoing at the Connecticut Port Authority preceded wide-ranging federal criminal investigations, certainly deserves the moniker of whistleblower.

    Blacker, who was representing himself Friday, made reference to what seems, from my little reading on the topic, a powerful legal premise that the prosecution has a heavy burden to disprove when there is even an appearance of vindictiveness in a criminal proceeding.

    To be fair, I’m not sure that Judge Henry knows the whole story based on the little Blacker was able to explain in court Friday.

    But I would say vindictiveness, at least in layman’s terms, is the best way to characterize Blacker’s prosecution as the charges against him still linger after four years.

    Blacker, who has long offered to pay for the signs, admitted the crime at the outset, even announcing it publicly.

    It was David Kooris, chairman of the port authority, who admitted reporting it after Blacker’s confession, submitting an estimate to State Police for the signs in excess of the threshold that made the damage a felony.

    The problem is that Kooris had no business estimating for police the cost of repairing the signs, which direct people to the pier area but are on public property and owned by the state. Kooris said he had port authority pier contractors estimate the cost of the signs. What do port contractors know about state sign costs?

    The investigation and arrest were carried out by the elite Eastern Connecticut Major Crime Squad, which you would think would know to get an estimate of the damage from the owners of the signs, not someone politically connected but not really involved who Blacker had been publicly criticizing for years.

    It turns out the damage to the signs when the Department of Transportation, which controls them, did an estimate was less than $600 making the charge a misdemeanor. Prosecutors finally acknowledged that and reduced the charge to a misdemeanor, long after Blacker’s widely publicized arrest on the erroneous felony charge.

    There’s no way I can imagine the major crime squad, usually tasked with things like murder and armed robbery, would have investigated sign vandalism unless they were assigned to do so at the highest levels of state government.

    So you had a whistleblower, who has been making public complaints about ethical lapses at the port authority, pursued by the elite squad of the State Police and arrested on an unreasonable felony charge based on an erroneous complaint by someone whose agency was the target of the complaints.

    Sure sounds vindictive to me.

    “Some people in society are given incredible powers, and when they abuse those powers someone has to be willing to do something about it,” Blacker said in court Friday.

    “The way in which I have been prosecuted is vindictive in nature … because of my activism and the exercise of my rights.”

    Maybe we will learn more in July, when Judge Henry ordered the trial to begin, first with jury selection.

    Blacker asked in court how to subpoena witnesses.

    Stay tuned.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.

    d.collins@theday.com

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