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Distraction, Dyslexia: Desperate Defense For Perez

Helen Ubiñas

June 13, 2010

A funny thing happened on the way to Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez's defense in his month-long corruption trial.

Throughout the state's presentation of their case, El Jefe's defense was absolute innocence. Oh, his attorneys hinted that his wife Maria's serious illness may have made him forgetful of a few details, like paying for some deeply discounted home repairs a little later than he had admitted to inspectors.

But mostly, Perez's defense dream team insisted their client absolutely didn't expect or accept freebies, even if he did balk at an estimate – and a low ball one at that -- from a city contractor who remodeled his kitchen and bath.

And you better believe a man of Perez's character would never ask a developer to pay off an old ward boss for some piddly votes. Why'd he need Abe Giles anyway; plenty of Hartford pols, him included, had managed to win without Giles' support.

In the mayor's own tape-recorded words, "That's not the way I do business."

But by the time the defense's first witness, Perez's chief of staff Susan McMullen, fanged Prosecutor Chris Alexy, the absolutely innocent defense took an odd spiral into the desperate and downright ridiculous.

You ready?

The mayor was distracted, though apparently not enough to keep from crowning himself chair of the board of education and the school building committee.

He increasingly delegated his duties while his focus turned to a special phone line to keep track of his sick wife, yet promotional press releases from his office had him at meetings and events throughout the city.

And then, of course, McMullen threw in this aside: There was his dyslexia.

Ah, the dyslexia defense.


Yep, as if blaming Perez's troubles on an ailing wife, slick developers and friends trying to buy his support with marble countertops and steam showers weren't enough, the defense now wanted us to believe that the reason Perez hadn't seen an email about the alleged $100,000 payoff from Joseph Citino was because the poor guy couldn't read it. Or at least, comprehend it.

To bolster El Jefe's dyslexia defense, attorneys called his assistant to talk about what a slow reader he is.

By Friday, his former Chief of Staff Matt Hennessy's description of the mayor's peculiar way of hop scotching through documents or curiously reading them from bottom to top made me wonder if they were now going to suggest Perez was either going blind-- or that maybe he couldn't understand Citino's email because he communicates in the right to left language of Farsi.

Hey, nothing's out of the realm of possibilities in that Hartford courtroom.

The defense's claims of a reading disability were getting so ridiculous that an exasperated Prosecutor Michael Gailor finally asked Hennessy, "The mayor can read, right?"

Yes. And curiously, reading messages from his Blackberry – which he does every day during courtroom breaks -- is exactly how Perez and Co. insisted he'd be able to fulfill his defendant duties by day and mayoral duties by night. So what, he has situational dyslexia?

But before we judge the defense strategy too harshly, the fact is that they're doing their job. When defending a client, you have to throw everything out there. The kitchen sink defense, if you will. Although Team Perez might want to stay away from any home improvement excuses on this one.

Keep it coming. I can hardly wait to see what they'll come up with next.

But if the mayor wants to beat this, he's going to need some better tricks up his sleeve.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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