State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin, appointed Thursday as Connecticut’s next chief state’s attorney (courtesy of CTN)

The state Criminal Justice Commission appointed New Haven State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin to serve as Connecticut’s next top prosecutor Thursday. Griffin will take the helm of a division shaken by scandal and understaffing.

The commission’s decision came after interviewing both Griffin and Hartford State’s Attorney Sharmese Walcott during a lengthy hearing at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. A third candidate, Litchfield State’s Attorney Dawn Gallo, withdrew her candidacy prior to the start of Thursday’s meeting.

Griffin, a 27-year veteran of the state’s attorney’s office, has served as lead prosecutor in the New Haven Judicial District since 2016. He told commissioners he hoped to improve the division by advancing its community relations and encouraging greater transparency.

“Transparency builds confidence with the communities we serve and I don’t think there’s any question that the reputation of the Division of Criminal Justice has been tarnished,” Griffin said. “I think that’s affected the morale of the entire division, but I do believe that community engagement and establishing relationships with the people we serve is key.”

During Thursday’s hearing, both candidates told the commission that the Division of Criminal Justice had suffered low morale following the dubious exit of the last chief state’s attorney and the additional strain created by a wave of retirements.

The position came open in March following the retirement of former Chief State’s Attorney Richard J. Colangelo Jr., who left the job amid questions regarding his decision to hire the daughter of a former state official while he lobbied that official for pay raises for himself and other members of the division.

“I take no pleasure in reporting to you that I think the moare is as low as it’s been in my 27 years,” Griffin said.

In addition to a rash of news stories regarding Colangelo, Griffin pointed to a myriad of strains on the division including the impact of COVID-19 on the state’s court system and agency departures, which he said resulted in the loss of nearly 30% of the division’s staff and hundreds of years of institutional knowledge.

Griffin said it would take time to improve the division’s morale.

“I think the chief state’s attorney can create a culture that would certainly improve morale but I don’t think any single person is responsible for where we are with the morale or is capable of immediately fixing it,” he said. 

During a public testimony portion of Thursday’s hearing, several New Haven community advocates spoke in support of Griffin and the work he had done as head of that city’s judicial district. 

Leonard Jahad, executive director of the Connecticut Violence Intervention Program, said Griffin had been involved with community efforts to reduce violence. 

“He’s not someone that I have to seek out. He’s in the Zoom meetings, he’s in the community and he’s had the courage to speak out, also even change some cases where the victims were done wrong,” Jahad said.

In a press release following Griffin’s appointment, Gus Marks-Hamilton, a campaign manager for the ACLU of Connecticut, said time would tell whether Griffin would make a progressive lead prosecutor for the state. 

“It is up to the incoming Chief State’s Attorney to prove whether they will embrace meaningful external accountability systems, new lobbying priorities, and new policies for all State’s Attorneys, or whether they will choose to double down on the harmful status quo,” Marks-Hamilton said.

During the hearing, Griffin said that New Haven prosecutors under his tenure had “embraced the new paradigm” of a more holistic approach to criminal justice.

“For too long prosecutors have been focused on results in a courtroom and not looking at issues that go to the root causes of criminality and have not focused on ideas and theories that might reduce crime,” Griffin said. 

The chief state’s attorney position pays $191,408 a year. Griffin’s appointment will last until the end of Colangelo’s term on June 30, 2025 when he will be eligible for appointment for another five-year term. 

The commission appointed Assistant State’s Attorney Lisa D’Angelo to serve as acting state’s attorney in the New Haven Judicial District.