As a Stratford native who has spent the 13 years on the bench — first as a trial court judge and most recently as an Appellate Court judge — Richard Robinson said he always tries to think about what it was like to be the person in the position he previously held.
“When I was a trial judge I always said that if I became an Appellate Court judge that I would remember what it’s like to be a trial judge. So each step I sort of look back and try not to forget who I was earlier,” Robinson told the Judiciary Committee on Thursday during his nomination hearing.
“Even when I was an attorney I tried to remember what it was like to be just a regular Joe who walks into a courtroom and all of a sudden this is the most important day of your life and people around you might not be looking at it that way.”
He said his prior experiences really helped him be a better person and his work on several committees, like the Cultural Competency Committee, kept him grounded and humble.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy nominated Robinson to the Supreme Court last week and Thursday, after a little more than an hour-long public hearing, 29 members of the Judiciary Committee approved his nomination to the Supreme Court. Robinson’s name will be resubmitted in February for approval by the House and the Senate.
But it wasn’t any of the hundreds of decisions Robinson has written over his 13 years on the bench that raised the eyebrows of at least one lawmaker. It was something Malloy said when he nominated Robinson for the position.
“I’m looking for justices who have good common sense and understand real-life situations,” Malloy said at a press conference announcing Robinson’s nomination. And “quite frankly, if they pull for the underdog once in a while, it wouldn’t bother me.”
Rep. Art O’Neill, R-Southbury, said the statement “raised some flags” with at least one editorial board and they recited the code of judicial conduct which says “a judge should act at all times in a manner that promotes integrity, independence, impartiality and that there’s no favor to be given based on finances or social standing.”
O’Neill wanted to know if there was anything in Robinson’s career as a jurist that would show “you pull for the underdog?”
“No, I firmly believe in going where the law takes me,” Robinson said Thursday. “There’s times where I don’t like where the law has taken me, but I write the decision.”
He said the only way he can do his job and feel secure in the system “is to do the best job I can applying the law as it is and then going from there. That’s all I can do. That’s all I’m supposed to do and that’s one of the reasons that I trust the law.”
O’Neill said he had to ask about it since the governor might have thought it sounded good to say “except if you’re saying it about a judge.” He said he thinks Robinson gave the right answer to the question. He joked that he hopes Malloy doesn’t withdraw his nomination “based on the fact that you’re not pulling for the underdog.”
Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, aggressively questioned Robinson about how he goes about deciphering legislative intent when he’s never been a legislator.
Robinson reminded Tong that he was counsel at one point for the legislative body in Stamford.
He said the legislative history of a bill can sometimes be very telling. Other times, “the legislative process is sort of like making sausage.” He said sometimes it’s a “crazy patchwork of ideas being thrown around” and the justices take that history and try to reach a consensus.
“If we don’t get it quite right, you guys are there,” Robinson said.
Robinson said he tries to build consensus among his colleagues on the bench when trying to reach a decision in a case because he doesn’t believe a split 4-3 decision is meaningful.
Editor’s note: This clarifies an earlier version of the story, which said Robinson would still need to be approved by the General Assembly. Robinson will sit on the court in the interim and his name will be submitted for approval of the General Assembly in February.