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Connecticut court takes up battle over whether governor must testify at impeachment panel

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The battle over whether Gov. John G. Rowland must testify before a legislative panel considering impeachment went to Connecticut's highest court Friday.

At the opening of the two-hour hearing, Rowland's lawyer renewed his past objections to a subpoena ordering the governor's testimony, saying the Legislature was intruding on the separation of powers among branches of government.

``The subpoena effectively treats the governor as a subservient officer,'' Ross Garber said.

The Legislature's lawyer said Rowland was claiming he has absolute immunity against being compelled to testify, which was hindering the House Select Committee of Inquiry's ability to conduct an investigation.

``Thus, under the guise of absolute immunity, the governor claims he can withhold evidence from the select committee and is asking this court to bless that position,'' Cynthia Arato said.

Justices have indicated they may rule from the bench Friday. If Rowland is ordered to testify, he would be the first sitting chief executive in U.S. history ordered to appear before a legislative body.

Rowland is under investigation for accepting gifts from friends, state contractors and employees. He is also the subject of a parallel federal corruption investigation. The three-term Republican has said he provided nothing in return for the gifts and has not compromised his office.

Committee members have said they would like to hear from the governor personally or at least from his attorneys and other witnesses.

Garber argued Friday that lawmakers don't need the governor's testimony and do not expect it.

``The select committee therefore seems to have precipitated a constitutional crisis unnecessarily,'' he said.

Arato agreed the committee could make a recommendation on impeachment without the governor's testimony, but said it was ``critical'' to form a complete record.

``He's the key witness here,'' she said. ``This impeachment is about his conduct, and his conduct alone.''

Rep. John Wayne Fox, the Democratic co-chairman of the inquiry committee, said Rowland faces a difficult decision if he loses the Supreme Court case. He could assert a Fifth Amendment right not to testify, but some lawmakers have suggested that could increase the chances that the committee will issue an article of impeachment accusing him of obstruction of justice.

Friday's hearing came a day after another Rowland attorney, William F. Dow III, stormed out of the impeachment hearings after criticizing how the legislative panel was presenting evidence.

Fox said the sharp criticism was a sign Rowland was laying the foundation for a second legal fight should he lose the challenge to his subpoena.

Dow declined to comment on whether he plans to file a lawsuit.
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