Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, questions Barry Armata (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Union officials criticized the Judiciary Committee Monday for approving the nominations of 13 attorneys to the Superior Court.

“The optics here are not good,” AFSCME Council 4 Executive Director Sal Luciano said Monday.

State employee unions, including those in the Judicial Branch, are currently in talks with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration over a concession deal, which will save the state $712.6 million in the first year and $849.4 million in the second year. If the two sides can’t reach an agreement it’s possible THAT as many as 4,200 state employees would lose their jobs.

Last year at least 300 Judicial Branch employees lost their jobs as a result of budget cuts.

“Our union members want to protect the vital services they provide to Connecticut citizens,” Luciano said. “That’s why we are making a good faith effort in our discussions with the administration. But it’s hard for front-line workers to maintain their morale when their livelihoods are threatened at the same time six-figure managerial employees are getting jobs.”

Superior Court judges, who must retire at the age of 70, earn $167,634 per year before health and pension benefits, according to the Judicial Branch.

In 2014, at least two judges close to the age of 70 were approved after a lengthy discussion about the state’s retirement policy for judges.

Chris Collibee, a spokesman for Malloy, said the judicial nominations represent “a fraction of the current vacancies” on the Superior Court bench. He said appointments will help ensure that the court is able to conduct its business in a timely fashion.

There are currently about 40 vacancies on the bench, according to Malloy, who said he may nominate four more to the bench.

Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, said people need to remember the Judicial Branch has a “profound responsibility to provide justice of the people of this state.”

In order to carry out that mission it needs judicial marshals, police officers, clerks, and probation officers as much as it needs judges, Tong, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said.

“It’s a co-equal branch of government that’s independent of the other two,” Tong said.

He said they have a role and there’s a budget role, but other than that the Judicial Branch is independent of the legislature.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Barry Armata (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

“The state and the branch are spending money unwisely on essentially lifetime appointments for managerial level employees, while asking its lowest paid to give back — or face the unemployment line. It makes no sense and it sends the absolute wrong message to the workers we represent,” AFSCME Local 749 President Charles DellaRocco said.

DellaRocca is a State Supreme Court Police Officer.

Local 749, an affiliate of Council 4 AFSCME, represents more than 1,500 front-line employees in the Judicial Branch, Division of Criminal Justice, and Office of Public Defender.

Another Local 749 member, Sotonye Otunba-Payne, also criticized the hiring of additional judges.

“Somebody needs to hit the pause button on executive-level hiring. Several hundred Judicial Branch employees were laid off last year. Many more will lose their jobs if we don’t agree to the concessions that the governor asked for in his budget,” Otunba-Payne, a veteran court monitor and member of Council 4 AFSCME’s executive board, said.

Council 4, which represents 35,000 workers across Connecticut, including more than 15,000 state employees, is part of the union coalition engaged in discussions with the Malloy administration to find mutually agreeable solutions to Connecticut’s economic crisis.

A framework for that deal was unveiled Monday.

Meanwhile, all 13 of the Superior Court nominees were given the thumbs up by the committee, even though at least one of them was criticized for his work as a Guardian Ad Litem.

Barry Armata was criticized by members of the public and Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, who accused him of stalling at least one case in order to extort more money from the parents.

Guardian Ad Litems are appointed by the court to look out for the interests of children in custody cases. However, family court critics say they bleed the parents dry by ordering evaluations and requiring supervised visits when there are no accusations of abuse or neglect.