No Special Compensation for Widow of Worked-To-Death Judge

The Connecticut Supreme Court has issued an interesting ruling that bars the widow of a judge from suing under a law designed to benefit her alone. It is like a reverse bill of attainder ruling: barring selective special benefits as opposed to punishment in legislation.

The state law in question was enacted 14 years ago to allow Joan Kinney to sue for state compensation after the death of her husband, Superior Court Judge Frank J. Kinney Jr.

The judge died of a heart attack at his home Sept. 28, 1986 and his widow insisted that his death was caused by over work for the state. She won a ruling in 1987 that awarded her $21,000 a year. However, the state appealed the ruling on the ground that he was not a true state employee.

The state legislature stepped in
to allow her to file a late claim in a special legislation. It further overrode the earlier ruling against her.
The state Supreme Court rejected the effort: “We conclude that, although well-intentioned, [the special act] benefits no member of the public other than [Joan Kinney]. . . The state claims that [the special act] created a preference that cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny because its sole objective was to grant personal gain to one individual, namely [Joan Kinney.] … We agree with the state.”

The decision puts the state in stark contrast to the federal system. Congress routinely passed special legislation to assist individuals — a practice that I have criticized for years.

It is also a decision that is an inverse image of a bill of attainder problem. For a prior such case, click here.

For the full story out of Connecticut, click here