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Claims commissioner nominee will face mountain of backlogged claims against the state

Robert F. Shea Jr. faced members of the Judiciary Committee during a public hearing over his nomination by Gov. Ned Lamont to take over the Office of the Claims Commissioner, a very back-logged office in charge of determining whether a legal claim filed against the state of Connecticut can see its day in court.

The office has been underwater for years, resulting in a massive backlog of cases that leaves claimants stuck in limbo for years waiting to see if their claim can go to court or be denied by the office, leaving them with little recourse.

“Clearly we have a problem in Connecticut with our claims system,” Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said to Shea following his statement to the committee. “There’s a mountain of backlog, there’s people that are extremely frustrated, their faith and confidence in the State of Connecticut is gone. The reputation we have for justice as the defendant in these claims, as a state, is terrible.”

“There are areas in our state where we excel, this is just not one of them,” Kissel said.

Shea said he is developing processes by which to make “quick and efficient” decisions on claims involving standard claims, claims by inmates at correctional facilities, and claims based on wrongful incarceration.

“I think what I need to do, if I’m fortunate enough to get this job, I need to get down there, look at all the files and try to employ these processes,” Shea said. “I will work with the team at the claims commission office and with the attorney general office and citizens of Connecticut and the plaintiff’s bar so we can get the information as quickly as possible on each file.”

Shea, currently an assistant attorney general for Connecticut was nominated for the role by Lamont earlier this year to replace Christy L. Scott, who resigned from the role of Claims Commissioner in January.

“The claims commissioner provides an important service to the people of Connecticut, and it should be filled by someone who can provide a high-level of competence, fairness, and ethics to all of its functions,” Lamont said in a press release. “Bob Shea’s professionalism and experience will be a benefit to this office and to our state, and I appreciate him for agreeing to fill this role.”

Shea will clearly face long-standing challenges coming into the role as the office has been beset for years by backlogged cases, prompting the legislature to impose stricter time limitations for the processing of claims, more reports to the Judiciary Committee and providing the office with more personnel to expedite the claim determination process.

According to state statute, claim determinations must be made within two years, but the latest reports from the Office of Claims Commissioner show hundreds of claims that are more than three years old with some much older, leaving claimants bearing financial burdens without any clear idea if they have legal recourse against the state.

Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, said he believes the Office of the Claims Commissioner has been underfunded in the past and has not been provided enough staff to deal with the hundreds of claims the office receives annually and the backlog.

“I think you can turn that around,” Godfrey said to Shea. “You certainly know your way around the legislature.”

“You know this committee has had frustrations with the office for many years about whether or not people could receive justice coming out of that office,” said Judiciary Committee co-chair Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven. “To my mind, justice takes a shape, a form, and what we’ve seen is so far from that form that saying justice delayed is justice denied is not appropriate here.”

“Sometimes, justice delayed is just not justice at all,” Winfield continued. “And that’s what we’ve seen here.”

Members of the Judiciary Committee complimented Shea for being a “straight shooter,” truthful and a hard worker, and opined that he will likely receive confirmation to the role. Committee members said they look forward to working with him.

“I am overwhelmed with gratitude that Governor Lamont and his team have asked me to serve in this very important role as the claims commissioner,” Shea said in Lamont’s press release. “I will work very hard to do this important responsibility.”

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Marc E. Fitch, Senior Investigative Reporter

Marc E. Fitch

Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels, along with numerous freelance reporting jobs and publications. Marc has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Western Connecticut State University.

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