With one exception, Malloy in no rush to fill judicial vacancies

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says he has no immediate plans to nominate judges for any of the 14 vacancies on the Superior Court, an early sign of the belt-tightening that will become more evident once he proposes his budget on Feb. 16.

Malloy told The Mirror that the only judicial vacancy he intends to fill for the foreseeable future is one he created on the Supreme Court: Joette Katz resigned as a justice to accept Malloy’s appointment as the commissioner of children and families.

On Friday, the House is scheduled to confirm four judges named to interim appointments on the bench in the waning days of the administration of his predecessor, M. Jodi Rell. Malloy nominated them to full eight-year terms.

But Malloy said he will defer consideration of other judicial vacancies until late spring or early summer.

“We’ve got to get through the budget and then see where we stand,” Malloy said.

The last group of Rell judicial nominees to go before the legislature, which included allies she wanted to place on the bench, caused a showdown with the Democratic leadership.

The former co-chairs of the judiciary committee, Rep. Michael Lawlor and Sen. Andrew McDonald, who now are members of the Malloy administration, argued that judicial department could not afford the new judges, given the Rell administration’s insistence on cutting spending for the courts.

The deadlock was broken on the last night of the session, when the legislature confirmed the nomination of Rell’s nominees, including her former budget chief, Robert Genuario.

McDonald, as the new governor’s general counsel, now would be a key player in filling judicial vacancies. McDonald said the administration is talking with the courts about the system’s funding priorities.

“The judicial department has not indicated yet there is a need for any additional judges,” McDonald said. “The only position that is actively being pursued right now is a replacement for Justice Katz.”

Five of the vacancies are judgeships authorized several years ago by the General Assembly and never filled. The rest were created by judges retiring or taking senior status, beginning last April.

Based on the age of judges, who face mandatory retirement at 70, at least four more retirements are anticipated this year, beginning next week.

Melissa Farley, a spokeswoman for the judicial department, said the court system has not requested that Malloy fill any of the vacancies, nor has it told him how many more vacancies it can tolerate.

But she said there is dialogue about what kind of resources the courts need in the context of the state’s fiscal crisis.

“I do think it is fair to say there have been discussions with regard to the budget about what the governor is looking for from the judicial branch,” she said.