Connecticut's Gov. M. Jodi Rell chose well for the next Commissioner of Public Safety when she tapped John Danaher III for the job. Mr. Danaher is currently senior litigation counsel at the United States Attorney's office in Connecticut. He supervised the prosecutions of former Gov. John G. Rowland, former Bridgeport mayor Joseph Ganim and former Waterbury mayor Phil Giordano. He also served as interim U.S. Attorney in 2001 and 2002.
He is a sharp and honest trial tactician. I tried a case against him in January 2005 and was impressed with his poise, knowledge of the rules of evidence and sense of fair play. He typifies the maxim that a prosecutor is to strike hard blows but fair blows. I stumbled once on an issue of evidence and he was unsparing in his attack without being vindictive.
The Department of Public Safety is in sore need of new leadership. The state police, which is one of the agencies under the control of the department, has been rocked in recent months as a result of an outside examination of irregularities in internal investigations of state troopers. It sometimes appear that justice among Connecticut's state troopers is meted out in proportion to a trooper's closeness to those in power.
Expect Danaher to try to cut through this inbreeding. That will not be an easy task. The thin blue line is hard to snap and there are factions within the state police that seem to view the rule of law as only one option among many. Danaher's predecessor, outgoing Commissioner Leonard Boyle, was a highly regarded federal prosecutor when he took command. He couldn't quite crack the clubhouse corps in the state's police barracks.
The Department of Public Safety is also responsible for oversight of the state's forensic laboratory. Danaher's easy command of the rules of evidence make him an ideal leader. Courtrooms across the country are now going digital, and the presentation of digital evidence is transforming the forensic sciences. Henry Lee made a cottage industry of promoting the laboratory, and himself, sometimes leaving the labs weak in terms of experts prepared to testify. Danaher can help move the lab away from the glitz and glitter of Dr. Lee's abundant self-promotion.
Two intiatives Danaher should sponsor:
1. Requiring that all custodial interrogations be interviewed from start to finish. Connecticut was the first state in the nation to have public defenders. Why not once again seek the forefront in securing the rights of the accused?
2. Permitting the laboratory to be a better resource for defense counsel. The laboratory currently has a policy of refusing to test material that has already been tested by the federal government. That's just silly. Truth is what it is. Why not help with confirming tests done at the request of the defense?
I know John, I respect John and I like him, too. So while I am happy to see him take this new post, my heart goes out to him. I've never understood why trial lawyers in their prime volunteer to become bureaucratic eunuchs. Recently Kevin Kane left the trenches of New London to become Chief State's Attorney. I felt a similar loss to the profession when Kane became a bureaucrat.
Danaher is a good lawyer and a good man. Let's see what he can do with the cowboys over at public safety.