HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The state Medical Examining Board held an illegal secret meeting in 2009 as it was being asked to decide whether it was ethical for doctors to take part in lethal injection executions, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The court unanimously upheld decisions by a lower court and the state Freedom of Information Commission, which both ruled that the board’s executive session violated state law on public meetings and ordered the board to comply with the law in the future.
The board had argued the executive session was legal under an exemption for meetings about strategy and negotiations related to pending claims or litigation. It appealed both the FOI commission’s decision and a Superior Court judge’s ruling in favor of the commission.
The Department of Public Health, which oversees the Medical Examining Board, released a statement Monday saying it respects the court’s decision.
“The ruling will help guide the board when making decisions concerning executive sessions,” the department said.
Victor Perpetua, a lawyer for the FOI commission, said government boards need valid reasons to go into executive session, and the Examining Board didn’t have one.
“I just hope it sends a message that the law is still the law and the guidelines in these noncontroversial cases are pretty clear,” Perpetua said.
At the time of the executive session, state public defenders and two death row inmates were asking the board for a formal ruling on whether it was ethical for doctors in the state to take part in lethal executions and whether they should face discipline for doing so. After the private session, the board decided to not issue a formal ruling.
Before the meeting, the public defenders sent a letter to state Assistant Attorney General Thomas Ring, questioning whether there was a conflict of interest in his representing both the Medical Examining Board and the state Department of Public Health.
The public defenders said if the board decided that doctors shouldn’t take part in lethal injections, such a ruling would call into question the participation of the then-Public Health Department commissioner, Dr. Robert Galvin, in the 2005 execution of serial killer Michael Ross, who was the first person executed in New England in four decades.
The public defenders said it may be a conflict of interest for the attorney general’s office to advise the Medical Examining Board on whether it was ethical for doctors to take part in lethal injections, while the office would potentially represent Galvin on any claims against him related to the Ross execution. The public defenders suggested the board hire an outside attorney.
The Medical Examining Board went into the executive session with an attorney general’s office official to discuss the public defenders’ concerns, citing the legal exemption allowing private discussions about strategy and negotiations involving pending legal claims or pending litigation.
The Supreme Court ruled there were no such pending claims or litigation. Justice Peter Zarella, who wrote the decision, noted that a Superior Court judge had called the board’s justification for the executive session unreasonable.