Hugh McQuaid photo
Sen. Eric Coleman and Rep. Gerald Fox, the two co-chairmen of the Judiciary Committee (Hugh McQuaid photo)

(Updated 9:21 p.m.) Former Sen. Anthony Avallone’s judicial nomination drew five “no” votes in the Senate Friday based on the state’s retirement policies rather than his qualifications to be a judge.

Lawmakers seemed to agree that Avallone, a lawyer and former Democratic state senator from New Haven, was well-qualified to serve on the bench. But one Democrat and four Republicans voted against his nomination because of a state policy which will allow him to retire with a $100,000 pension after just three years as a judge.

Avallone is 66 years-old and the mandatory retirement age for Connecticut judges is 70.

Meriden Democrat Sen. Dante Bartolomeo said she voted against Avallone with “discomfort and regret.”

“I do know that he’s immensely qualified and his credentials are very impressive and I’m certain that he would be capable of performing the responsibilities of this position,” she said. “Yet it’s based on principle that I will not be supporting him and some of the other nominations today … I simply will not be supporting a judge who will not be able to work 10 years and still would get a full pension.”

Hugh McQuaid photo
Sen. Dante Bartolomeo of Meriden (Hugh McQuaid photo)

Bartolomeo said she has proposed legislation to change the judicial retirement rules. Republican Sens. John McKinney, Robert Kane, Toni Boucher and Tony Guglielmo also voted against the nomination.

Guglielmo expressed similar reservations.

“I’m going to vote ‘no,’ but not based on anything he’s done or has not done, I think it’s the system itself. Hopefully we’re going to do something to fix it,” he said.

Other lawmakers, like Enfield Republican John Kissel, said they disagreed with the retirement policy but did not believe it was fair to punish a judicial nominee for a state policy. He said many of his constituents expressed concerns about Avallone’s retirement. However, Kissel pointed out that Avallone already has 10 years of state service under his belt from his time as a lawmaker.

“Individuals, state employees that, otherwise do a fantastic job for the people of the state of Connecticut, are playing by the rules. If we don’t like the rules, it’s up to us to change the rules,” he said.  “… For whatever reason the lightning rod nominee in my district has been attorney Avallone… but that set aside, attorney Avallone, from my interactions with him, was immensely qualified.”

Later Friday night Avallone’s nomination passed the House 97 to 30, but the House had already aired their concerns about the access to a pension after only three years on the bench with Timothy Bates, another judicial nominee.

Bates’ nomination eventually passed the House 97 to 30.

Avallone was not the only judicial nomination to face additional scrutiny for a legislative policy.

Manchester Mayor Leo Diana who has served as a guardian ad litem faced similar criticism, not for his qualifications, but because a portion of his business involves representing children in a custody case.

McKinney, one of the three Senators to vote against Diana, said he wanted to send a message to the judicial branch that they need to fix some of the “very real and very serious problems in our family court practice.”

Earlier this year, the nomination of another judge was closer in the House than anticipated because he too was a guardian ad litem. McKinney said he watched the debate and learned that it was possible to get the judicial branch to pay attention.

“We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t admit that it was the closeness of that vote that got the judicial branch up here to talk about Senate Bill 494,” McKinney said.

Diana was approved by the Senate 32 to 3. The House later approved his nomination 125 to 4.

Christine Stuart contributed to this report.