CHRIS POWELL: A joke on Danbury's homeless and another felonious lawyer

Published on Saturday, 4 December 2021 12:51
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Woody Allen movie fans might appreciate the joke Danbury’s Zoning Commission is playing on homeless people in the city and, really, on the whole state.

In Allen’s spoof of Russian novels, “Love and Death,” the comic hero at last wins the woman he adores and on their wedding night puts his arm around her in their marriage bed. She replies: “Not here.”

But if not there, where?

The Danbury News-Times reports that Pacific House, a Stamford-based organization that has been helping the homeless in Fairfield County for 20 years, has acquired a former motel building in Danbury with the help of the state Housing Department, which came up with $4.63 million to purchase the property. Pacific House has been operating it as a shelter under one of Governor Lamont’s emergency orders. But the order expires in February and last week the Zoning Commission voted 6-3 against allowing the shelter to operate permanently.

Commissioners accepted complaints that the shelter will harm the character of the neighborhood -- as if homeless people roaming the city and nearby towns without the supervision and services Pacific House provides won’t risk the character of many neighborhoods.

Of course those needing shelter are problematic, but the homeless are less problematic, more successfully treated, if their treatment begins with what is called “supportive housing.” Once the trauma of having no safe place and privacy ends, sobriety and rehabilitation come easier, especially since the needed services - medical, counseling, and transportation - can be more centrally provided.

A former motel is perfect for supportive housing. Residents of such a facility may actually be less transient than the people who stayed at the motel. And while opponents of Pacific House’s Danbury facility concede the need for a shelter in the area, they offer no other location even as Pacific House’s facility is already operating.

Of course only saints want to live near people who have problems. But people with problems have to go somewhere, and it’s far better for them to go where they may be helped out of their problems than to be merely sheltered in a barracks overnight, out of the cold and damp, only to be shooed back into the cold and damp at daybreak.

When supportive housing has a responsible sponsor and state government’s support, as Pacific House’s facility in Danbury does, state law should exempt it from local zoning. So the issue in Danbury is one for the whole state and the General Assembly should address it urgently when it reconvenes in February.

* * *

Criminal penalties aim to set standards, deter, and punish, but for offenses less than murder they are not meant to ruin lives. For most offenses forgiveness can be earned.

But former Hartford lawyer Corey Brinson is asking for more than forgiveness for his conviction for using his former law firm to launder money for stock swindlers while taking a cut. According to the Hartford Courant, Brinson is asking to be restored to a position of honor under state government -- commissioner of the Superior Court -- with reinstatement of the law license he lost with his conviction.

A lawyer disciplinary committee has voted 3-1 to recommend reinstating Brinson’s law license, finding that he has rehabilitated himself after a three-year prison term. Maybe he has, but becoming a lawyer is a lot of work, and no one who becomes a lawyer has any excuse not to know that financial fraud is doubly wrong for a lawyer, an offense against the law itself as well as the privileged public office he holds.

The decision on Brinson’s reinstatement rests with a committee of Superior Court judges. There is precedent for the committee to decide either way. Decades ago Connecticut’s courts maintained that a felony conviction required a lawyer’s permanent disbarment. But in recent years felonious lawyers have been reinstated.

Such reinstatements have diminished regard for the legal profession. But then maybe the profession no longer deserves much regard.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns on Saturday, 4 December 2021 12:51. Updated: Saturday, 4 December 2021 12:53.