December 16, 2005: Headlines: COS - Uganda: Ethics: State Government: Law: Hartford Courant: Uganda RPCV Benjamin Bycel is new ethics chief in Connecticut

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Uganda: Peace Corps Uganda : The Peace Corps in Uganda: December 16, 2005: Headlines: COS - Uganda: Ethics: State Government: Law: Hartford Courant: Uganda RPCV Benjamin Bycel is new ethics chief in Connecticut

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Uganda RPCV Benjamin Bycel is new ethics chief in Connecticut

Uganda RPCV  Benjamin Bycel is new ethics chief in Connecticut

Bycel's supporters portray him as a Renaissance Man with a variety of interests he has pursued as a lawyer, writer, consultant, law school dean, school board president, and former Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda. A former lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union in southern California, he also was the co-author of "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury: Greatest Closing Arguments in Modern Law."

Uganda RPCV Benjamin Bycel is new ethics chief in Connecticut

Making A Fresh Start
New Ethics Chief Says State Can Be A Model
December 16, 2005
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, Capitol Bureau Chief

Connecticut's new ethics chief says the state can become a national model for campaign finance reform and ethics after years of embarrassing scandals involving former Gov. John G. Rowland and other politicians.

"Connecticut stands at the threshold of being the leader in how government brings back integrity," Benjamin Bycel said Thursday, in his first interview since being named to the post this week. "I don't believe that the apple cart is rotten. I believe there's a few rotten apples. ... I don't have the roster of who did what, but I know there's been problems here."

Bycel, who practices law in Stowe, Vt., will be replacing the highly controversial Alan Plofsky, who was fired last year after his own employees became whistleblowers against him. The high-profile problems prompted the legislature to clean house at the State Ethics Commission, pass a law that overhauled the agency and rename it the Office of State Ethics.

Bycelhas a cautious style, stressing confidentiality and refusing to bring action against a public official unless he has all the facts first. As a result, he says he will only go after substantive cases.

"If you're going to give what I call ethics jaywalking tickets, you're wasting your time," Bycel said. "Who took a pencil home? Who took a ream of paper home? I don't believe in that."

He also said his agency would not be conducting partisan witch-hunts.

"We have to have fair enforcement. We can't have selective enforcement," Bycel said. "We don't have any friends, and we don't have any enemies. It's straight down the middle. There's no partisanship."

The grandson of a chicken farmer from Willimantic, Bycel is best known as the founding director of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, where he was considered an aggressive trailblazer before being fired in 1995. Bycel was appointed during a Democratic administration and later lost his job after Republican Mayor Richard Riordan was elected, but Bycel does not personally blame the mayor.

"Dick is a nice guy," Bycel said in an interview at the state Capitol complex. "He and I got along well."

One of the biggest problems was that Bycel was creating a complete culture change in Los Angeles, said Rebecca Avila, Bycel's successor. He headed aggressive investigations of top officials who had never been investigated before, such as the city attorney, she said.

"He was somebody who was fearless, determined, and not afraid to push for the resources he needed," Avila said Thursday in a telephone interview from California.

"Nobody subpoenaed local officials before. It's the sort of thing that would have been handled behind closed doors," Avila said. "That was very unusual at the time. It was a brand-new agency. People have a hard time when someone is as unvarnished and blunt as Ben can be. He's always surprised when people are put off by his bluntness."

In October 1995, Bycel was abruptly fired by the commission in a 3-1 vote; the commissioners refused to explain why. A month later, the commission agreed to pay a half-year's salary of nearly $52,000 as a consulting fee to Bycel, and he agreed, in turn, to cancel any plans to file a defamation-of-character lawsuit over the firing.

Bycel's supporters portray him as a Renaissance Man with a variety of interests he has pursued as a lawyer, writer, consultant, law school dean, school board president, and former Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda. A former lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union in southern California, he also was the co-author of "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury: Greatest Closing Arguments in Modern Law."

After working as a lawyer and legal ethics consultant in Los Angeles for more than five years after being fired, Bycel headed to Washington, D.C., in 2001 to become vice president at Common Cause, a national advocacy group. In 2003, he was on his way to Stowe to open a criminal and civil law practice. He also served as a consultant on conflicts of interest, malpractice, and legal ethics. Despite the beauty of Vermont, he soon grew antsy.

"I went to Vermont thinking I would be a small-town lawyer," Bycel said. "Once you've been involved in ethics and issues, it's hard to be a small-town lawyer. I missed the action."

So now Bycel is back in the thick of the action, accepting a $120,000-a-year post in a state badly tarnished by ethical scandals.

Although he has read newspaper articles about the scandals that sent Rowland to prison, Bycel says he knows "very, very little" about the details of the ethics problems in Connecticut.

He declined to comment on the ongoing controversy over Gov. M. Jodi Rell's chief of staff, M. Lisa Moody, who admitted distributing invitations to one of Rell's fundraisers to state commissioners on state time. The State Elections Enforcement Commission has opened an investigation into the issue, and the chief state's attorney's office has started a "preliminary review" of the situation.

When this story was posted in December 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Hartford Courant

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Uganda; Ethics; State Government; Law


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