With only a few months left in her administration, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced Monday a diverse group of judicial nominees.
The move comes several months after Rell was criticized by the legislature for nominating 10 white judges. Of those 10, nine were approved by the legislature after one nominee withdrew his name.
The four nominees Rell announced Monday include an African-American and immigrants from both South Korea and Pakistan.
“A diverse and highly educated group, they bring years of practical knowledge and personal experience to this challenge,“ Rell said in a news release. “The responsibilities of running a courtroom, managing trials, and ensuring the even-handed application of the law are great. I am confident that these four individuals will rise to the occasion.”
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, who helped broker the deal with Rell to urge her to appoint more minorities to the bench said, ” I am appreciative of the governor for maintaining her pledge to do better.”
“This does not erase the lack of diversity in the past picks,” Holder-Winfield said. However, “the governor has done a good thing here and while I don’t have a barometer for “enough diversity” this sure feels better than what we have seen before.”
Since Rell didn’t call a special session of the legislature at the same time she announced the nominations, it will be up to the Judiciary Committee to vote on Rell’s nominees.
Rep. Michael Lawlor, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said if Rell had called a special session the nominees could have been appointed to eight-year terms. However, she chose to make them “interim” nominations, which means they will serve until March.
The Judiciary Committee has 45 days to vote on the nominees, but can ask for a 15-day extension, Lawlor said.
And while Lawlor welcomed the “diversity,” which he said was “better late than never,” he wondered if the Judicial Branch will be able to afford four new judges.
“It remains to be seen how many, if any, new judges the Judicial Branch can accommodate and which the state budget can afford,“ Lawlor said. “There is a hiring freeze decreed by the governor currently in effect.”
When Rell nominated 10 judges last spring, the Judicial Branch budget had to be modified to accommodate them and the entire budget process was held hostage while the details of the funding were worked out during the final night of the regular session in May.
Lawlor said he anticipates a public hearing and vote by the Judiciary Committee at some point in middle or late November on the four new nominees.
The four judicial nominees are:
Hunchu Kwak, 48, of West Hartford (Republican): Currently an attorney in private practice, Kwak is a 1985 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. After service in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of Connecticut School of Law, graduating in 1998. A native of Incheon, South Korea, Kwak worked previously as director of risk management for Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford and in-patient care regulation for the Connecticut Hospital Association.
Lisa Kelly Morgan, 47, of Wethersfield (Republican): Morgan is president of her law firm of Ruben, Morgan & Horan where she has worked since 1994. Morgan received her undergraduate degree from Villanova University in 1984 and her law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1987. Among other community service positions, she served on the Wethersfield Housing Authority from 1993 to 1998.
John M. Newson, 41, of Brooklyn, Conn. (Democrat): Newson recently returned to the Office of the Public Defender where he worked from 1996 to 2001. From 2001 to May of this year, Newson was in private practice in Norwich. Newson graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 1992 and received his law degree from the Western New England College School of Law in 1995. A lifetime member of the NAACP and a 1987 graduate of Norwich Free Academy (NFA), Newson has also served as a Corporator for NFA since 2008.
Mohammad Nawaz Wahla, 59, of Glastonbury (Democrat): An attorney who has been president of his own firm, Wahla & Associates, since 1999, Wahla received law degrees from the University of Punjab in 1974, the University of Texas at Austin in 1991, and the University of Houston in 1998. Wahla served in the army of his native Pakistan for 20 years, retiring with the rank of major.