HARTFORD, CT — In a brisk five minutes, the House voted 146-0 to elevate Justice Richard Robinson to chief justice of the State Supreme Court, while Republicans voted against some of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s new nominations to the Superior Court bench.
Robinson is an associate justice on the Supreme Court who was nominated after Justice Andrew McDonald failed to win confirmation. If the Senate confirms his nomination, he will become the first African-American chief justice of Connecticut’s Supreme Court.
The House also took the first of many party line votes on 31 of Malloy’s Superior Court nominees Monday.
“It has nothing to do with their qualifications,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said. “I am sure they are all very qualified to sit on the bench.”
However, “we have a much bigger concern — the budget of the state of Connecticut,” Klarides said.
She said the Judicial Branch has told them they can only fund about half of the judges. Not only can’t they afford them, but they don’t even need them, Republicans argued.
“We don’t need to find the money somewhere because we don’t need all these judges,” Klarides said.
Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, a practicing attorney, said he’s been in court rooms that are so poorly staffed a judge has to wait a long time for a marshal to respond to an emergency alert call.
He said even if these judges are appointed there are still not going to be enough judicial marshals to keep them safe or court reporters and clerks to staff their courtrooms.
Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, said just because there are not enough staff doesn’t mean there are enough judges.
“We are at an all-time low,” Tong, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said.
He said there will be 11 retirements on top of 28 existing vacancies.
Even if Malloy filled all the vacancies, there are still fewer judges now than there were at the end of former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s term in 2010, Tong said.
Still, Republicans voted against every one of the new nominees Monday.
According to information provided by Klarides, the cost of a Superior Court judge, excluding fringe benefits but including salary and essential support staff, is around $291,410 per year.
That means for all 31 Superior Court nominees it would cost about $9.03 million. An estimated 11 judges will retire before June 30, 2019, saving about $3.2 million, which means the cost to the judicial branch will jump about $5.8 million if all 31 are confirmed.
Malloy has previously nominated 30, but one withdrew his name and the governor announced two more last week.
Norma I. Sanchez-Figueroa of South Windsor and Jennifer Macierowski of Windsor will receive a public hearing on their nominations Wednesday.