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Connecticut attorney general speaks with Eastern students

Published on April 06, 2023

Connecticut attorney general speaks with Eastern students

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong addresses a crowd of Eastern students, faculty and staff in the Student Center Theatre. 

Speaking to a crowd of Eastern students, faculty and staff on April 5, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said the reasons why he pursued his law career and went on to become the first Asian American elected to a Connecticut state office.

“A lot of it has to do with way I grew up and feeling like my family and I were not a part of this thing — outsiders — like we don’t belong here,” Tong said of his family, which owned a Chinese restaurant in Bloomfield. “When I was a kid, people would say, ‘You’re Chinese, say something. Perform.’ That is very alienating. I felt I needed to get beyond that. My family wasn’t going to have every opportunity unless we got beyond that. It seemed like a tangible way to advocate for people like my family.”

Tong was also a lawyer practicing in state and federal courts for 18 years before seeking public office. The attorney general explained the central role his office and its more than 200 lawyers play in consumer protection cases and defending civil rights and freedoms for Connecticut residents. “Our office ensures that state government acts for the citizens of the state,” he said, adding that his office focuses on civil cases in the state, while criminal cases at the state level are handled by the chief states attorney.

Tong said his office represents the state of Connecticut, all its offices and agencies in their official capacities including the legislature, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, and state agencies such as the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The attorney general detailed a few cases — large and small — that his office has handled, from helping newlyweds retrieve deposits when their weddings were canceled during the pandemic to suing solar panel companies for fraudulent sales tactics and faulty products. He also spoke about major settlements the attorney general’s office is working on against vaping companies for advertising to minors and against Purdue Pharma for its role in the opioid epidemic.

“Eastern Connecticut has been hit particularly hard with opioid overdoses, so on this issue I have a special obligation to be aggressive,” Tong said, adding that Connecticut will receive more than $600 million in the settlement against opioid drug companies, most of which will go to addiction treatment programs and research.

When a faculty member asked his advice to children who are first generation or from immigrant families, Tong chuckled, adding that a complete answer could take him three hours.

“For children of immigrants, getting access to a great education like this one is just the start. Mentors have made a huge difference in my life,” he said. “Second thing — it’s really important to reckon with and embrace who you are. In this day and age, people talk a lot about being real. Most people can tell — can smell — if you’re putting up a front and not representing your true self. If they’re building a relationship with you for work, they want to know who you are.”

In answer to a student’s question about the attorney general’s biggest obstacle in civil cases against large firms, Tong’s response was succinct: “They’re big, and they’re wealthy. A lot of companies sell products we all use like Amazon,” he added. “They will stand up with their fancy lawyers and say you all love Amazon and Amazon Prime, what’s wrong with Prime? There’s nothing wrong with that service except when you use your power to crush the next Amazon and every mom and pop store on main street. That’s how enmeshed and dug-in they are.”

Written by Amanda Irwin