When Perry Zinn Rowthorn was hired as an assistant attorney general in 1999, he thought the switch from private practice to public service would be temporary.
“I had in the back of my mind it would be good to have some element of public service work in my career,” Zinn Rowthorn said, “but if you asked me back then if I’d still be here now, I probably would have thought I would not.”
His staying with it in the public sector has paid off. On October 7, Zinn Rowthorn was promoted by Attorney General George Jepsen to succeed Nora Dannehy as second-in-command of the office, a boost in stature from his current job running the office’s litigation department.
In announcing the promotion, Jepsen credited Zinn Rowthorn’s dedication and leadership skills among the reasons he was picked to replace Dannehy, who is leaving at the end of October to take a leadership position with United Technologies Corp.’s legal department.
“As Associate for Litigation, Perry has brought critical and thoughtful oversight to the office’s litigation practice,” Jepsen said. “I have every confidence in his abilities.”
As deputy attorney general, Zinn Rowthorn will be responsible for managing the legal efforts of all departments within the office, including consumer protection, special litigation and health care fraud. He will also be expected to act on behalf of Jepsen as needed. For instance, Zinn Rowthorn will coordinate meetings between various state agencies when legal issues arise.
Zinn Rowthorn graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law. He worked as an associate in a civil practice in the New Haven firm now known as Jacobs & Dow, and then clerked for U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny. In 1999, he was hired by former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, with his first job being investigating consumer complaints. His next assignment was representing state troopers and correction officers in claims of civil rights violations brought by arrestees and prison inmates. “To the extent I know anything about trying cases, I learned a lot in that role,” he said.
Zinn Rowthorn was promoted a few times, notably in 2003 to the special litigation department, where his responsibilities included representing constitutional officers, judges and members of the General Assembly when they were named as defendants in lawsuits.
Looking back, Zinn Rowthorn said his career in public service has given him the unparalleled reward of working on behalf of the people of the state.
In his capacity as leader of the special litigation department, he’s been at the center of many important legal battles, including representing the Secretary of the State in election law cases. “This has been a phenomenal experience, and an interesting place to work. I have never looked back,” he said.
Although not always in the forefront of the public eye, Zinn Rowthorn has played a role in some key moments in the recent history of the office. He was the lead counsel for the state in 2005 when Rell v. Rumsfeld, in which then-Governor M. Jodi Rell challenged an effort by the U.S. Defense Department to remove Air National Guard units from the state.
More recently, he represented the state’s interests in a case in which then-Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz sought to prove she was qualified to hold the office of Attorney General. The state Supreme Court ultimately decided that Bysiewicz had insufficient experience as a practicing attorney, and she withdrew from the race, paving the way for the 2011 election of Jepsen.
In another high profile case in 2010, Zinn-Rowthorn succeeded in defending the legislature in a lawsuit which sought to make physician-assisted suicide legal. But most of the time, he’s worked quietly behind the scenes.
“We handle tens of thousands of cases every year, and the overwhelming majority of those cases are low profile,” he said. “We are typically in court to defend state officials or agencies or seeking to enforce a child support ruling or enforce an order by the Department of Children and Families because of allegations of abuse and neglect.”
While the lower profile cases are always “profoundly significant to the agencies and individuals involved,” he said, “they are not always matters the public is made aware of, but they are still handled with the utmost care.”
But because of the overwhelming importance most of the work is to those involved or to the public, he added, “working in the Attorney General’s Office is really a dream job for a lawyer. The majority of the cases you work on are interesting, they’re always important to the proper functioning of our state government.”
Another aspect of the work he has enjoyed, has been working with “tremendous and talented colleagues,” including Dannehy, who was hired by Jepsen to re-organize the office after he took office in 2011.
“Nora Dannehy is one of the best lawyers I’ve ever worked with,” Zinn-Rowthorn said. “She has done a remarkable job as deputy, particularly given that she came to the Attorney General’s Office from the federal system. She immediately earned the trust and affection and devotion of everyone in this office, and helped George tremendously with his transition.”
Moving over to take Rowthorn’s current job will be Margaret Q. Chapple of Granby. She is currently an associate attorney general for administration and management.
In announcing the promotion of Chapple, Jepsen credited her dedicated public service for many years. “Time and again, Peggy Chapple has proved herself a capable and intelligent litigator and an effective leader,” Jepsen said.
Zinn-Rowthorn said he appreciates the opportunity to continue to serve the people of Connecticut. “I look forward to working in this new role, and I wish Nora all the best in her new position.”•