- Associated Press - Thursday, July 10, 2014

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Federal prosecutors want to use critical comments former Gov. John G. Rowland made on his radio show about a congressional candidate in his trial on charges that he had a secret paid consulting role with a rival candidate.

Prosecutors say Rowland made on-air attacks against congressional candidate Andrew Roraback when he was working for Lisa Wilson-Foley, Roraback’s rival for the Republican nomination for northwestern Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District in 2012. Roraback won the primary, but lost to Democrat Elizabeth Esty in the general election.

Prosecutors say Rowland’s on-air comments were paid work on behalf of Wilson-Foley, and they want to call Roraback as a witness for Rowland’s trial in September. They say the comments were not legitimate opinion broadcasting but a political ambush paid for by Wilson-Foley’s husband.

Rowland, who has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and other charges, said Roraback’s testimony is irrelevant because adversarial debate and political commentary was the central premise of his radio show. He said his purported hostility toward Roraback did not shed light on whether Rowland was paid for Wilson-Foley’s campaign.

Wilson-Foley and her husband, Brian, pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions.

Prosecutors are trying to show that Rowland received about $35,000 from Wilson-Foley’s husband to work on his wife’s congressional campaign and not for his nursing home as a contract claimed. They say any evidence suggesting Rowland performed campaign work is relevant.

Rowland says the contract was legitimate.

Jonathan Manes, a Yale Law School lecturer, said the government should have evidence that Rowland was actually being paid to use his radio program for the campaign to bring up the issue at trial.

“If they can’t show that, then I think it would be inappropriate to use his speech on the radio as evidence against him in a criminal case,” Manes said. “I think it would be sort of troubling to infer just from a hostile radio interview that he was being paid. You want to give people on the radio significant latitude to express opinions and the First Amendment protects that.”

Elizabeth Phillips Marsh, a Quinnipiac University School of Law professor, said prosecutors are trying to show Rowland was providing political services rather than working for the nursing home as the contract claimed. She said the move did not involve suppressing speech.

“The government has to take its evidence where it finds it, and I don’t see a First Amendment bar to them using the evidence here,” Marsh said.

Prosecutors say in court papers this week that Rowland had treated Roraback favorably in the past, but that suddenly changed with hostile comments about the candidate’s opposition to the death penalty and other issues. During an interview in 2011 to discuss teacher pension underfunding, Rowland almost immediately initiated critical questions about a jobs bill and disconnected Roraback before he had an opportunity to respond to the criticism, prosecutors wrote.

“The fact that he was treated in a diametrically opposite manner after the defendant started receiving payments from Mr. Foley supports an inference that the defendant attacked the candidate Roraback as part of his paid responsibilities,” prosecutors wrote.

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