Editor’s Note: This question-and-answer interview with Democratic attorney general candidate Chris Mattei is the second in a series of profiles of the five candidates vying for the job.
Trial attorney and former Connecticut Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Mattei has his work cut out for him as he prepares for the August Democratic primary for attorney general against Paul Doyle and William Tong, the party’s endorsed candidate.
While Tong has the financial and party support of state Democrats, Mattei believes he is best suited to take over as the state’s top attorney from Democratic Attorney General George Jepsen. Mattei is the youngest of the five attorney general candidates in both parties. If Mattei is victorious in the primary, he must then defeat the Republican’s candidate for attorney general in November.
The 40-year-old Windsor native took a special interest in the U.S. Attorney’s Office on cracking down on those who brought illegal, out-of-state guns into Connecticut. Mattei served as chief of the financial fraud and public corruption unit at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He is also one of two federal prosecutors who won the second criminal conviction on corruption charges against former Republican Gov. John Rowland.
Mattei joined Bridgeport’s Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder in 2015 as a trial lawyer. His areas of focus, according to the firm’s website, include civil rights, products liability, whistleblower actions, securities fraud and election law.
Mattei, who has been endorsed by Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, was previously an attorney with Shipman & Goodwin. He also served as law clerk to U.S. District Judge Alvin Thompson of Connecticut from 2005-2006. He graduated from with honors in 2005 from the University of Connecticut School of Law in Hartford.
Mattei recently answered several questions posed to him by the Connecticut Law Tribune. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Connecticut Law Tribune: You’ve been very outspoken against the policies of President Donald Trump, saying on your website that the president represents a threat “to our basic civic values and Democratic norms.” What, specifically, will you do as attorney general to counter what you see as a threat to our basic civic values by this administration?
Chris Mattei: What we’ve seen is that the Trump administration is willing to use extra-legal means to achieve its central policy objective, which, I believe, is to dismantle the institutions and regulatory regimes that protect average families and have been built over decades.
For example, the Trump Environmental Protection Agency has failed to comply with its legal obligations to protect clean air and water; the administration has defunded and undermined the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; the administration has unlawfully attempted to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; and the administration has supported the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. The act, if passed, would undermine Connecticut’s gun safety laws. Trump’s Federal Communications Commission has unlawfully repealed net neutrality, which will result in the limitation and pricing of internet content. All of these things are subject to legal challenge, and should be.
Of particular concern to me, and to many attorneys, has been Trump’s assault on the rule of law, evidence-based inquiry and objective truth itself. His attacks on the Justice Department and the media, along with his suggestions that he is not bound by traditional legal norms, have undermined public confidence in the institutions that have traditionally been a check on the abuse of power. I believe that part of my responsibility as attorney general is to oppose this trend by informing the public about the threat such behavior poses to our democracy.
CLT: You are probably best known to Connecticut residents as one of two federal prosecutors who won the second criminal conviction on corruption charges against former Gov. John Rowland. What is the most important lesson you learned from that prosecution and how can that help you as attorney general.
Mattei: I’ve learned more lessons from the cases I’ve lost than the cases I’ve won. First, I want to say that the conduct of Mr. Rowland and his co-conspirators would have never come to light were it not for the work of extremely dedicated investigators with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the persistence and insight of former Assistant U.S. Attorney Liam Brennan.
One lesson that I learned from supervising and trying that case was that some cases just need to be tried, especially the hard ones. Many factors within our justice system incentivize resolution short of trial: fewer attorneys with trial skills, the cost of trial litigation and stretched judicial resources to name a few. But trials occupy a very important position in our system of justice. They discipline investigators and prosecutors. They convey to the public that our system of justice is transparent and worthy of confidence. And they resolve important issues of law.
As attorney general, I will encourage our office to prepare every case as if it is going to trial and, where fairness and the facts allow, to try those cases with my full support and with adequate resources. The Attorney General’s Office should be a leader in advancing the cause of justice in courtrooms across our state, and trials are a critical element of that effort.
CLT: How—specifically—would a Chris Mattei Attorney General’s Office be different from a George Jepsen Attorney General’s Office?
Mattei: Our challenge is to anticipate the next generation of threats against Connecticut families.
It is clear to me that the manner in which online tech companies collect and secure our personal information raises many consumer protection concerns that will grow more serious in the coming years. So, this is an area I expect to prioritize.
Connecticut continues to struggle with deep, concentrated poverty in both urban and rural areas. In the absence of a comprehensive policy agenda to address economic empowerment, the attorney general must root out unlawful practices in the areas of housing, environmental justice, wage/hour enforcement, civil rights and antitrust enforcement. I’m also committed to expanding the investigation into the crumbling foundation crisis in Eastern Connecticut which affects up to 30,000 homes and threatens to undermine the municipal tax base of much of Eastern Connecticut.
CLT: Soon after you announced your intentions to run for attorney general, the Republican Attorneys General Association said the state “does not need an activist attorney general,” but rather someone who will create a “climate of regulatory certainty.” What do you say to your critics who argue a Mattei Attorney General’s Office will be an activist one?
Mattei: I served as an assistant U.S. attorney for nearly a decade, and supervised some of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s most complex and sensitive investigations.
In civil and criminal law enforcement, we set priorities to protect as many people as we can from unlawful behavior. We do it vigorously, fairly and without favor. That’s what I will do as attorney general. The equal and consistent application of the law leads to predictability. The absence of regulation or enforcement, which is what the Republican Attorneys General Association seems to prefer, does not.
Ultimately, the attorney general’s responsibility is to protect to people of Connecticut and to advance their legal interests. To do that well, the Attorney General’s Office must be aggressive, but fair in its enforcement. That is not activism; that is the job.
CLT: As you know, the opioid epidemic in the state is on the rise. George Jepsen said he’s proud of how his office has tackled the problem and points to October 2017 when Connecticut joined 40 other Attorney General’s Offices in the country to issue subpoena’s to several pharmaceutical drug manufacturers for information about how the companies market opioids. What—specifically—will you do if elected attorney general to address the opioid epidemic?
Mattei: First and foremost, we need to aggressively pursue the current investigation in partnership with our state partners.
As attorney general, I will ensure the investigation comprehensively addresses the full scope of the pharmaceutical companies’ potentially unlawful conduct. The current focus on the sale and marketing tactics of the pharmaceutical companies is critical. The investigation should also include an examination of the design of certain drugs and whether they were manufactured in a way that made them more addictive when a safer alternative was available.
I think we need to expand efforts similar to those I supervised at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, investigating the extent to which pharmaceutical companies and health care providers have entered corrupt relationships in which pharmaceutical companies offered unlawful incentives or payments to prescribers.
Finally, I think it is important for the office of the attorney general to assist and coordinate with Connecticut municipalities that have brought legal actions against the pharmaceutical industry.
If our investigation determines that pharmaceutical companies have acted unlawfully, I will insist that they fully compensate our people for the public health costs we have borne as a result of their conduct. I would advocate that any settlement or damages verdict Connecticut receives should be dedicated to addiction services, training and counseling, including the support of wraparound services to help those struggling with opioid addiction deal with common problems, including homelessness.