Graves Acknowledges Legal Missteps

Thomas MacMillan Photo Clifton Graves Jr. lost his law license for nine years and pleaded guilty to failing to pay income taxes—in what the Democratic mayoral candidate called “inexcusable” lapses.

Details of those legal troubles emerged from a review of public records of candidates participating in the Sept. 13 four-way Democratic mayoral primary. Graves and two other challengers are taking on nine-term incumbent Mayor John DeStefano in the primary.

The review showed that Graves had his license to practice law suspended for nine years because of failure to pay an annual fee that ranged from $37.50 to $75. His license was reinstated last September after he paid the money.

And the review revealed that Graves received a one-year suspended sentence in 2004 for failure to file state tax returns. The charge was a misdemeanor; he paid the money and fine and did not have to spend any time in jail.

“It’s inexcusable what I did,” Graves said in a candid interview at his Whalley Avenue campaign headquarters. “I acknowledge that.”

Change Of Address

The state judicial website shows that Graves had his license suspended on April 23, 2001. It was reinstated On Sept. 10, 2010.

The site lists four entries, but they all relate to one matter: Graves’ failure to make an annual payment, required of all attorneys, into a “client security fund.”

According to Chris Blanchard, a staff attorney with the judicial branch, the fund pays for victims of theft or embezzlement by their attorneys. In 2001, all attorneys were supposed to pay $75 into the fund; in 2004, the rules changed to allow attorneys (like Graves) not actively practicing law to pay just half the total fee. The total fee rose to $110 (or $55 for non-practicing attorneys) in 2005.

Graves said he never knew that he owed the fee, because the letters informing him were sent to a Winston-Salem, N.C., address and not forwarded. He moved there from New Haven in 1993, he said.

Before moving to North Carolina, he had served as an attorney in the New Haven corporation counsel’s office and at the housing authority. He moved back to New Haven from North Carolina in 1995. He no longer actively practiced law. Instead he worked as an administrator and teacher at Southern Connecticut State University and Gateway Community College.

In those jobs he received a notice saying he was exempt from paying a separate professional tax, because he was a full-time state employee, he said. So he falsely assumed he didn’t have to pay the other, client security fund fee, he said.

He shouldn’t have made that assumption, Graves said. And he should have done “due diligence” to actively make sure the state bar association had his correct new address listed; then he would have learned about losing his license.

“I didn’t follow through like I should have,” he said.

Blanchard said the state automatically submits the names of attorneys each year who haven’t paid the security fee, and their licenses are revoked until they pay up.

Graves learned about his past due bill after agreeing to represent an acquaintance for free. He knew the man from his days at the housing authority, he said. “I was trying to help a guy who had no money with a simple divorce.”

The man’s wife’s lawyer looked up Graves’ record and discovered the license suspension. That lawyer filed a grievance with the state.

The Statewide Grievance Committee formally reprimanded Graves on Oct. 1, 2010. It noted his failure to make the client security payments. It noted that Graves did send a check for the $558 to the security fund in 2008; however that check bounced. He eventually settled the bill in 2010.

Click here to read the reprimand letter.

“It did take longer” to pay than expected, Graves said in the interview with the Independent Tuesday. He said he had left SCSU at the time and was going through a “difficult divorce.”

“It was a difficult time,” he said.

The reprimand letter also noted that Graves made a second appearance with a client in 2009, before the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. Graves responded that he was again helping a friend for free; he also thought he was offering the friend advice and accompaniment to a hearing but not formally acting as an attorney.

“This reviewing committee concludes by clear and convincing evidence that the Respondent engaged in unethical conduct by failing to pay the past due amount to the Client Security Fund and by representing a Client knowing his license to practice law was suspended,” read the decision, written by Attorney David I. Channing.

“While sympathetic to the Respondent’s personal circumstances and good intentions to pay the past due amount, this is the second time that the Respondent has engaged in the conduct of representing a client before fulfilling his obligations to maintain his license and contribute to the Client Security Fund. Two years passed after the Respondent’s email to Attorney Blanchard indicating that he would honor the check and the Respondent failed to make any further attempt to arrange payment with the Client Security Fund. Only upon the filing of another grievance was the issue addressed by the Respondent.”

Tax Trouble

In the other matter, Graves pleaded guilty on Dec. 20, 2004, to the misdemeanor charge of violating state income tax regulations. In addition to a one-year suspended sentence, he received two years’ probation.

According to an affidavit prepared by Robert Valente of the Special Investigations Section of the state Department of Revenue Services, Graves failed to file state income tax returns 1998, 1999, and 2000.

Click here to read the affidavit.

Graves owed a total of $4,276 to the state. As part of his plea, he agreed to pay it back in $200 monthly increments.

Graves said he makes no excuses for failing to file those returns.

“Truthfully I was going through some personal family and personal crises,” he said. “Both my parents were ill. I had just been diagnosed with diabetes; that was traumatic. It was a combination of those factors ... even though it’s inexcusable what I did. There were personal stresses I had to deal with at that time.”

 

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posted by: John Dejlitko on August 24, 2011  1:28pm

Sounds to me that Clifton Graves Jr. can’t handle his own personal matter if he doesn’t pay his bill on time, or as he claims it was an oversight on his part and bounces a check. Now he want’s us to think he’ll be able to handle the tough situation that our City is now in. I don’t believe he is the man for the Job.

posted by: Lazy Reasoning on August 24, 2011  1:42pm

So if Graves has “personal stress” while being mayor is he going to just assume that the city will keep going without him?

I don’t understand how New Haveners could even consider voting for someone who skipped out on their taxes, wrote bad checks to the state, and practiced law without a license.

posted by: JAK on August 24, 2011  1:49pm

The guy knows the pain of confiscatory state tax policy and going through a bureaucratic nightmare.  This doesn’t disqualify him in my mind.  He should be running on reduced taxes and red tape.

posted by: Mum's Mum on August 24, 2011  2:00pm

Although it took longer than necessary or desired to resolve, I can almost forgive the first incident.  Almost.  The second incident is inexcusable.  He was a corporate counsel for New Haven and an administrator at two area institutions of higher education.  He understood his obligation to pay state income tax (how could he not?) but he didn’t - for three years!  I’m sorry for his personal problems but that can’t be an excuse.  Everyone has aging, ill parents, personal problems etc and they are expected to pay their taxes, even former DC Mayor for Life Marion Barry .

posted by: Funky Chicken on August 24, 2011  2:44pm

Actions (or lack thereof) of this nature put him out of the running in my mind.

I dislike paying taxes but we all have to. Every adult know that and if he really was serious about this race he would have been upfront about his failure.

posted by: Hmmm... on August 24, 2011  3:05pm

Let the one of you who hasn’t messed up in some way in the past cast the first stone here.  If you want somebody perfect in that seat or any political seat then you’re surely going to be disappointed.

Also remember that the Mayor isn’t the only one in charge of keeping up with stuff.  There are a whole bunch of other folks working on that.  I once worked for a Fortune 100 company where the comptroller was a terror keeping track of the company funds but couldn’t remember to pay his own Corporate AMEX bill.

I’m not sure who I’ll vote for 9/13 (except I KNOW it won’t be Destafe-gotta-go!!!) but I won’t let something like this influence my decision.  If that’s all he’s got then hell I’m more inclined to vote for him.

posted by: Comparison on August 24, 2011  3:28pm

Yes, graves should have gotten out in front of this issue before announcing his candidacy. But does this disqualify him from running and possibly winning the election… let us compare past and present statewide and local candidates and their test favor ability.

Statewide:
Former Secretary of State Susan Bywsiewicz, attempted to run for Attorney General in 2010 despite that she had not paid to renewed her law license. She lost the court case, but is now running for the U.S. Senate.

Locally:

Joey Rodriquez former alderman of the 15th ward and now assistant to Senator Richard Blumenthal, found driving under the influence or, DUI, however the state’s toxicology lab never presented the results.

Carlton Stagers candidate for alderman in the 30th ward in 2009 and 2011.
Multiple arrest and convictions, now supported and financed by the Destefano campaign.

Marcus Paca alderman of the 24 ward, in the 2009 primary admitted to multiple children by separate women and did not pay child support despite ordered to do so by the courts.

Sergio Rodriguez, alderman of the 26th ward, who illegally worked for the New Haven Housing authority, ultimately resigning, while holding an elected position.

These disclosures simply point out human frailties inherent in our society, which did not, nor should not, preclude anyone past or present from performing a public service.

What the NHI should do is poll the current local candidates on the this subject.

posted by: thats the way the ball bounces on August 24, 2011  4:29pm

I’m sure that ALL of the running candidates have a tainted past…as well a our present, JD…It’s just a shame that Mr Bass picks and chooses who he wants to shine in this campaign.  Why not do an investigation on ALL,write about it an let the voters decide whose got the most dirt in their boxers!

[Note: We did check the records on all candidates. We in no way sought to single out any candidate.]

posted by: anon on August 24, 2011  4:40pm

Comparison, which of those candidates did not pay taxes? I think Graves did a good job explaining this situation early in his run for office, and this happened many years ago (right?), but tax evasion is serious especially for a public official. Imagine the reaction here if DeStefano did not pay taxes for example.

posted by: Elaine Braffman on August 24, 2011  4:44pm

Clifton,
This to will pass because we all make mistakes. The point is….. did we learn by them? I think you probably have. I wish you well.
Elaine Braffman

posted by: cba on August 24, 2011  5:12pm

If this individual can’t be responsible for his own actions, how can you expect him to handle the affairs of a large municipality, but then again Malloy said that he would support ” whatever Democrat wins”.  This kind of blind support without standards puts the Governor’s political acumen in serious doubt !!

posted by: cedarhillresident on August 24, 2011  5:14pm

Yes he is human as we all are. And I think Paul gave him a great story and a place to make his “case”. After all he is a lawyer and fancy foot work and talk is what he does for a living. He convinces people the sky is purple and they walk away believing it.
Am I convinced that a man that is unable to keep his own affairs in line, will be able to take on a 700 Million dollar budget disaster? No. But I do see his passion and love for some of the troubles in this city. Bad guy- no mayor - I just am to afraid that his life stresses and the messes of this city may be something he can not handle. Without that, all the other issues can not be fixed. :(

I need New Haven to be the dream we all have.

posted by: A NEW LOW FOR NEW HAVEN POLITICS on August 24, 2011  5:22pm

I don’t give a hoot for knowing that a candidate was late filing taxes 10 years (1 decade!!!) ago. Or that he got a misdemeanor citation for not filing. As far as the law thing, he should have taken care of that, but his explanation makes sense to me. (He didn’t know about the requirement because he wasn’t a practicing attorney). He did a couple free pro bono cases and the opposing law dog turns him in. Great, I’ve seen Mother Theresa sainted for doing that kind of stuff.

Of course, John DeStefano and his goon squad will stoop to new lows to fight Graves’ candidacy. It’s just a sad, sad, sad commentary that this is what New Haven politics has become under the Johnny D reign of terror. Enough of this petty bull crap, I wish this election were held TODAY. I can’t wait to say GOOD RIDDANCE!

posted by: norm on August 24, 2011  5:54pm

ALL taxes are voluntary.
We should be thanking Mr. Graves for paying anything.

Wake up, sheeple!

posted by: VD on August 24, 2011  8:07pm

I’m surprised he’d run for mayor knowing that the info would be uncovered by anyone with a knowledge of google.

That said, this year I’m voting for anyone who is currently not the mayor.  I hope there’s only one candidate going up against him in the general and it’s my hope (now) that it won’t be Mr. Graves.

posted by: K on August 24, 2011  9:16pm

New Haven, Can we PLEASE elect someone who is not corrupt this time around?!
There is no way anyone, and especially a lawyer, would just forget to pay their taxes.
Do we really need someone working for us that knowingly attempted to represent a client while his license was suspended?
We do not need another mayor who thinks they are above the law!

posted by: K on August 24, 2011  9:26pm

@ A NEW LOW FOR NEW HAVEN POLITICS

“As far as the law thing, he should have taken care of that, but his explanation makes sense to me. (He didn’t know about the requirement because he wasn’t a practicing attorney). He did a couple free pro bono cases and the opposing law dog turns him in. Great, I’ve seen Mother Theresa sainted for doing that kind of stuff.”

Actually, it doesn’t make sense.  He did know about it.  He had acknowledged that he owed the money after the first time he tried to represent someone without a license to practice law.  Graves wrote Attorney Blanchard indicating that he would pay, and then chose not to pay for two years.  He only paid after he tried to represent someone AGAIN without contributing to the client security fund.

posted by: K on August 24, 2011  9:32pm

@ thats the way the ball bounces

Actually Kerekes has not have any misdemeanor or felony charges filed against him.  In fact, he actually worked as a budget watchdog for years.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 24, 2011  10:13pm

posted by: K on August 24, 2011 10:16pm

New Haven, Can we PLEASE elect someone who is not corrupt this time around?!
There is no way anyone, and especially a lawyer, would just forget to pay their taxes.
Do we really need someone working for us that knowingly attempted to represent a client while his license was suspended?
We do not need another mayor who thinks they are above the law!

How about Timothy Geithner who runs the Treasury Department. He didn’t pay Social Security and Medicare taxes for several years while he worked for the International Monetary Fund, and he employed an immigrant housekeeper who briefly lacked proper work papers.How about Charlie Rangel, a Harlem Democrat who is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee,Who owned the beachfront house at the Punta Cana resort and club since 1988, but never declared the $75,000 in rental income he has earned either on his tax returns or on his Congressional financial disclosure form.And both are still working.So what is your point.

posted by: richgetricher on August 24, 2011  11:33pm

Mr. Graves has done a good job in highlighting the public safety crisis facing New Haven (“when I ask kids what they want from life, they say they just want to reach the age of 18”). He’s been an eloquent vehicle for raising the shortcomings of the Mayor and the need for a change. But he’s never sounded to me like he had a grasp of the financial challenges facing the city or was up to that task.  This proves it. Hope he’ll throw his support to Kerekes.

posted by: Time To Move On on August 25, 2011  5:40am

The 10 y.o. misdemeanor citation was taken care of and the legal technicality involving giving free legal advice should be a non-starter for anyone except Graves’ political opponents who obviously have an ax to grind. Come on folks, it’s time to move on. Nothing to see here, it happened 10 years ago. If character assassination was a crime, New Haven’s jails would be full right about now! Let’s ask the other candidates if they have any misdemeanor arrests in their background.

posted by: Lost my vote on August 25, 2011  6:09am

If Graves can’t even look after his own finances, how can he expect us to trust him to improve the City’s finances?

Kerekes now has my vote.

posted by: Wille on August 25, 2011  7:38am

With those qualifications and that background he will make a good mayor and can hit the ground running because there will be no learning curve time needed to become another elected official that is completely devoid of integrity, something that is commonplace in politics and politicians at all levels today.

posted by: Meow on August 25, 2011  7:40am

Clifton always remember the words of Dr. King “The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human and, therefore, brothers.” We all have a past, that’s what makes us who we are today.. best of luck to you and just stay focused!!! and Keep it Movin’

posted by: Ruby Belton-White on August 25, 2011  7:59am

Just so that you know Paul Bass, Attorney, Clifton Graves Jr., is exactly the kind of man that New Haven needs to become the mayor of New Haven.  Incidentally,he does not limit his interaction to computer owners/computer li- terate readers as does your newspaper. As you know, poor people are unable to access your newspaper because the library is open only 3 days per week.  The New Haven Independent responds to the upper middle class and is very elitist.

    As you state in your article, Attorney, Clifton Graves Jr., has routinely over extended himself on behalf of the poor which to his detriment has jeopardized his career. New Haveners and millions of Americans identify with Clifton as we are all struggling with financial hardships, divorce, at risk children,home forclosures etc. Yet, despite that Clifton continues to engage and champion the poor, support unemployed families, has a plan for the over taxed, and is currently implementing strategies to curb gun violence in the identified 4th highest gun violent city in the nation, New Haven. 

    Attorney Clifton Graves Jr. has manners, is prayerful, honest and has character.  He has a Vision and a New Voice for New Haven.  Attorney Clifton Graves For Mayor 2011.

    Thank you

posted by: westville man on August 25, 2011  8:55am

What bothers me most about the whole mess is that he WAS TOLD his check bounced, promised to make good on it and didn’t for a long period of time. I can forgive the sloppiness of representing someone pro bono when your license is suspended, but there is alot to overlook. Don’t know if I can.

posted by: anon on August 25, 2011  10:06am

“As you know, poor people are unable to access your newspaper because the library is open only 3 days per week.”

Good point.  In other countries, high speed internet is considered to be a fundamental human right.  Information is as vital as clean air. Until our leadership gets with the times and stops pretending we are living in the 1960s, are problems are not going to get better.

posted by: brutus2011 on August 25, 2011  12:04pm

Funny how background blemishes arise to cast doubt on people who are trying to positively do something for our community.

While I approve of Candidate Graves, the most important thing is to change the Tammany Hall regime in City Hall.

If the solution to the corruption in City Hall and NHPS is not to be the Graves candidacy, then one candidate should somehow be ‘selected’ so that opposition votes can be consolidated.

Our kids, our community, and our collective future are at stake.

posted by: K on August 25, 2011  12:51pm

@ Threefifths

I was talking about the mayoral race.  You know, since this article is about a mayoral candidate.  My point was, lets elect a mayor that follows the law.

@ Time To Move On
The information is actually public record.  ... .

@ Ruby Belton-White
Upper middle class is defined as a household income between $57,658 - $91,704.  I assure you, there are plenty of individuals that have access to a computer or have a smart phone that make less than $57,658.  I myself, am one of those people.  Lets not insult the resourcefulness of the low and middle class.  Whether people choose to read the news is another issue.
Also, Graves was not honest when he didn’t pay his taxes, wrote a bad check, and tried to practice law without a licence even after he promised, in writing, to pay the fee.

posted by: Anon on August 25, 2011  1:18pm

For the folks screaming that the goons are out to get Mr. Graves, you cannot be serious.  Graves should have made his shortcomings known very early.  New Haven is a small town and information is readily at our fingertips.  Did he think informed voters, his opponents, members of the media - at least the good old-school types aren’t aware of or looking into these things. I don’t think John DeStefano and his so-called goons had to lift a single finger on this one. TOO EASY!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 25, 2011  3:24pm

posted by: K on August 25, 2011 1:51pm
@ Threefifths

I was talking about the mayoral race.  You know, since this article is about a mayoral candidate.  My point was, lets elect a mayor that follows the law

It is still politics.You will always find someting like this on those who are running for any office.

posted by: K on August 25, 2011  8:11pm

@ ThreeFifths

“It is still politics.You will always find someting like this on those who are running for any office.”

No, not really.  The NHI checked records on ALL the candidates.
I challenge you to find any misdemeanor felony charges against Kerekes.  It’s public record.

posted by: A NEW LOW ... on August 26, 2011  7:25am

From these posts it is apparent that NHI is giving one of Mr. Graves’ opponents a free platform to launch ongoing attacks on this issue. (At least 5 separate comments from “K” on a continuing rant.) And is screening out comments in opposition. Why, Mr. Bass? If you let K continue on ad nauseum, at least post what others have to say.

posted by: westville man on August 26, 2011  10:46am

My wife and i were voting for Mr. Graves until I found out this information on my own. Now we’re not too sure as it demonstrates a sloppiness we’re not comfortable with. I like him, but i like alot of people who may not be mayoral material…..

posted by: Really on August 26, 2011  2:38pm

It would really be hard pressed for me to really list many politicians that do not have something on them. If this is all they have on Mr. Graves then I am with him all the way. Heck,,,,some of our BEST leaders , both nationally and locally, really did not have their personal stuff together.

Good luck Clifton.

posted by: HhE on August 27, 2011  12:14pm

I think this is small beer.

I opine that Mr. Graves, along with Mr. Kerekes, remains one of the two best choices for Mayor.

I think this city needs a Mayor who will ask everyday, “What can I do to make New Haven the best city it can be.”