Gov. Dannel Malloy nominated two former Democratic state senators, the mayor of Manchester, and the chairwoman of the state parole board among 16 attorneys to the Superior Court bench Friday.
In addition, Malloy nominated two sitting judges – Eliot D. Prescott, 49, of West Hartford and Raheem L. Mullins, 36, of Cromwell – to serve on the powerful Appellate Court. Prescott gained prominence in the news recently by ordering the release of the 911 emergency telephone calls that were made to the police during the fatal shooting of 20 children and six female educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Malloy said he agreed with Prescott\’s decision and \”scholarly work\’\’ on releasing the 911 tapes, but added that did not impact the nomination to the appellate court. Mullins has served on the Superior Court bench for two years before being elevated to the state\’s second-highest court.
Former Sen. Anthony Avallone has been a prominent Democratic insider for decades, serving in the state Senate for 10 years and being a longtime member of the influential Democratic National Committee. During his tenure in the legislature from 1983 to 1993, Avallone served at times as the co-chairman of the judiciary committee and the public safety committee, among other duties.
Avallone will be 67 years old in December, and the retirement age for judges is 70.
Despite serving for less than four full years as a judge, Avallone would be eligible for a large pension of about $100,000 per year for life. That is because the retirement rules and pensions for judges are far more lucrative than for other state employees.
Anyone serving as a judge who reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 – regardless of how long they serve – can receive a pension of two-thirds of their final salary, according to judicial officials. The Superior Court judges are currently paid about $155,000 per year, and a two-thirds pension would be more than $100,000 per year.
Retired judges can also become senior judges and collect per diem rates of $232 per day to hear cases while still receiving their pensions.
Malloy\’s spokesman, Andrew Doba, said that Avallone\’s age was not a concern when Malloy made his nomination.
State Sen. Joseph Markley, who served with Avallone in the state Senate in 1985 and 1986, said he did not have a problem with Avallone\’s age.
\”That\’s the sort of thing that makes you say the rules for the pension should be changed,\’\’ Markley said in an interview. \”It doesn\’t mean that Tony Avallone shouldn\’t be a judge. I\’m well disposed towards him because I knew him and I liked him\’\’ in the state Senate.
Regarding state pensions, Markley said, \”We\’ve been generous, and it\’s something that we can\’t afford any more.\’\’
Rep. Arthur O\’Neill, the longest-serving Republican on the legislature\’s judiciary committee at 24 years, recalled serving on the committee when Avallone was the co-chairman with legendary Democratic Rep. Richard Tulisano of Rocky Hill. He also did not have a problem with Avallone\’s age.
\”If somebody were 69 1/2, then maybe you might wonder about it,\’\’ said O\’Neill, an attorney. \”Certainly, he has lots and lots of experience as an attorney. In the first couple of years as a judge, they assign you to the GA courts where you do routine things, anyhow – dealing with traffic offenses and minor criminal matters.\’\’
Like Markley, O\’Neill said he wanted to read the file and hear testimony before making any final decisions on how he would vote on the nominations of Avallone and the other candidates.
\”If you get to the point where you\’re in front of the judiciary committee, it\’s yours to lose,\’\’ O\’Neill said. \”It\’s very rare for someone to get rejected by the committee.\’\’
Word spread quickly around state courthouses about Avallone\’s nomination, prompting lawyers to talk Friday about \”the Wollenberg rule.\’\’ They were referring to former judiciary committee co-chairman William L. Wollenberg, who was nominated by then-Gov. John G. Rowland in 1996 at the age of 64 to be a judge. Wollenberg died in 2012 at the age of 79.
Prior to Wollenberg’s nomination and ultimate appointment, judicial nominees were almost always far younger, meaning that they had to work for a decade or more before retiring and collecting generous state pensions.
Manchester Mayor Leo V. Diana, who has been practicing law for 26 years, has been mayor of Manchester since 2011. He works as a partner in his own law firm and serves as the secretary of the famed Manchester Road Race. A Democrat, Diana first applied to be a judge back in 2008 when Republican M. Jodi Rell was serving as governor.
Currently, there are 26 vacancies for judges in the Superior Court. With the 16 replacements, there will be 10 vacancies. With retirements, vacancies are frequent in the judicial branch.
Malloy also nominated Erika M. Tindall of New Haven, who currently serves in a high-profile position as the chairwoman of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, which makes key decisions regarding whether criminals will be released from prison. He also nominated Steven Spellman, 62, of Noank, who served in the state legislature from 1987 to 1992 and now serves as chief of staff for the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which includes the state police.
In addition to Avallone, Tindall, and Diana, the nominees are Timothy D. Bates of Noank, Steven D. Ecker of New Haven, Tammy D. Geathers of Bloomfield, Jane K. Grossman of Hamden, Irene Prosky Jacobs of West Haven, and Ingrid L. Moll of West Hartford. The other nominees are John D. Moore of West Hartford, Kevin J. Murphy of Berlin, Robert Nastri of Cheshire, Cesar A. Noble of West Hartford, Rupal Shah Palanki of West Hartford, and Kevin S. Russo of Shelton.