Christine Stuart file photo
Judge John R. Downey (Christine Stuart file photo)

A Superior Court justice since 2001, Judge John R. Downey resigned Jan. 9 ahead of a February hearing that would have decided whether to reappoint him to the Superior Court bench.

It’s unclear whether Gov. M. Jodi Rell intended to nominate Downey for reappointment. Connecticut judges serve eight year terms before they must be reappointed by the legislature.

In 2007, Rell had intended to elevate him to the Appellate Court, however, his nomination hearing proved difficult and ended with him withdrawing his name. At question were court transcripts that seemed to show Downey was “emphatic” in deciding not to hear cases involving illegal immigrants.

At the time, Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Michael Lawlor said Downey had “taken a position that is not part of the law” and called Downey’s actions “a form of judicial activism.” Less than 24-hours after that controversial hearing, Downey withdrew his name for the nomination to the Appellate Court and apologized for any misunderstanding regarding his views on illegal immigrants and their access to the courts.

“My views on this issue have evolved,” Downey wrote. “I would like to state unequivocally that it is my position that all people have the right to access our courts to seek redress for legal injury.”

Downey’s Jan. 9 letter of resignation to Rell was much shorter.

“Would you please withdraw my name from the list of those being considered for reappointment for Superior Court Judge,” Downey wrote in his one sentence letter. 

Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Monday that “it’s probably the right decision for Judge Downey, the Judicial Branch, and the entire process.”

“I wish him well in his future endeavors,” McDonald said. “I hope he has great success.”

However, McDonald did admit Downey may have again faced a difficult nomination hearing. “Certainly some important questions would have been asked,” McDonald said.

Downey, a Redding resident, was just two years shy of receiving a state pension.

The Judiciary Committee will hold a 10 a.m. hearing Tuesday on several judicial nominations, including the reappointments of Supreme Court Justice Peter Zarella of West Hartford and Appellate Court Justice Joseph Flynn of Ansonia, as well as retired Chief Justice William Sullivan of Waterbury, who reportedly has been hearing Superior Court cases on a part-time basis in Waterbury.

The committee also will consider the nomination of 13 Superior Court justices and one state referee.