Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced two judicial nominations Thursday: Judge Michael R. Sheldon of Canton to the Appellate Court, and Sybil Richards of Orange to succeed Sheldon on the Superior Court.
The nominations are only the 3rd and 4th by Malloy since taking office in January, a recognition that the fiscal crisis has resulted in a downsizing of the trial court, where 17 vacancies are unfunded.
Malloy said he will be talking with Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers later today about judicial resources and the possibility of other vacancies being filled. A court spokeswoman says the system has five funded vacancies.
Sheldon, 62, has a been a trial judge since 1991, when he was appointed by Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. He is a graduate of Yale Law School.
Richards, 48, is the deputy corporation counsel in Stamford, a position she held when Malloy was mayor. She is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School.
With the nomination of Richards, who is African American, Malloy has now named minority-group members for three of his four appointments, a nod to longstanding complaints about a lack of diversity on the bench.
Malloy’s first judicial appointment was to elevate Lubbie Harper Jr., from the Appellate to the Supreme Court. He chose Superior Court Judge Carmen Espinosa, the state’s first Hispanic judge, to succeed Harper on the Appellate Court.
Richards, who is Malloy’s first appointment to the Superior Court and is the youngest of his four judicial nominees, was deputy counsel in Stamford for nearly 10 of the 14 years Malloy was mayor, from 2000 to 2009. She previously held the same position for the city of New Haven.
“I witnessed first hand how talented, sharp and steady she is,” Malloy said. “When I was mayor of Stamford, I relied on her legal advice to help navigate through difficult issues.”
Legislators have been encouraging lawyers from minority groups to apply to the Judicial Selection Commission, the screening panel that produces a list from which all nominees are chosen. She said she applied in June 2010, when Malloy still was trailing in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
“I am humbled by this experience,” Richards said. “Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I ever would have reached this point in my professional careeer given the social and family circumstances under which I grew up in the Bronx, surrounded by drugs and crime, without at times some of life’s basic necessities.
“It is almost surreal that I am standing here today.”
As a senior trial judge with an academic background, Sheldon’s nomination was anything but surreal or suprising. When first appointed to the bench, Sheldon was known for his work at the University of Connecticut, where he reinstated and ran the clinic on criminal law. He has taught at UConn’s law school since 1976.
“Judge Sheldon has distinguished himself in both the academic world and on the bench,” Malloy said. “His reputation in the legal community and among his judicial colleagues is stellar.”
Sheldon was the trial judge who ruled last year that then-Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz’s legal experience met the statutory requirement to serve as attorney general, but he was overruled by the Supreme Court, which knocked Bysiewicz from the race.
He succeeds Judge Thomas A. Bishop, who reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 in December. In thanking Malloy, Sheldon said he long dreamed of joining the Appellate Court, which is the state’s second-highest court.
“I greatly appreciate the confidence you placed in me,” Sheldon said. “And I tell you I plan to honor that confidence with my work, my energy, enthusiasm and with as much wisdom as I can muster.”
If confirmed by the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, both nominees will assume their appointments on an interim basis, subject to confirmation by the General Assembly during its regular session in 2012.