In Re: Nyasia H.
As discussed in the 2001 Connecticut Supreme Court case of American Heritage Agency, Inc. v. Gelinas, "[d]isqualification of counsel is a remedy that serves to enforce the lawyer's duty of absolute fidelity and to guard against the danger of inadvertent use of confidential information…" The trial court terminated the parental rights of the respondent, Steven H., to his minor child, Nyasia H. The respondent appealed, claiming he was entitled to a new termination hearing because the court erred in denying his motion to disqualify Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Signorelli, the attorney representing the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, given an appearance of impropriety and violation of rule 1.11 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The trial court found that the respondent emailed Attorney Signorelli as Chief Child Protection Attorney before her return to the Office of the Attorney General, requesting an investigation in this case. The trial court found that the email disclosed no substantial or confidential matters and that Attorney Signorelli had not represented or acted in an adversarial role with the respondent. The court denied the motion, stressing that the case had been pending for 987 days with the children in placement since 2010, and trial was to start that day. Under Connecticut General Statutes (Rev. to 2010) §46b-123d, the Chief Child Protection Attorney is responsible for managing a system of legal representation, where such representation was handled by not-for-profit legal services agencies and private independent contract attorneys who, themselves, provided direct legal services to clients. The role and duties of the Chief Child Protection Attorney were administrative in nature, and, thus, she did not personally or substantially participate in or provide any legal representation in individual cases. Rule 1.11(a)(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct is addressed to public officers or employees who "participated personally and substantially" in a matter. Based on the trial court's findings, the record and clearly defined statutory scope of the Chief Child Protection Attorney's role and duties, the panel was unpersuaded that the trial court abused its discretion or that the denial of the motion amounted to manifest injustice.