Malloy picks Chicago prosecutor for victim advocate

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy nominated a Chicago prosecutor as the state victim's advocate Friday, ending speculation over whether Michelle Cruz, an appointee of his predecessor, would win a new term after months of tension between her and the Malloy administration.

Malloy's choice is Garvin Ambrose, 35, the executive assistant state's attorney and legislative liaison for the Cook County state's attorney. He now faces confirmation by the General Assembly for the $100,000-a-year post.

Garvin Ambrose

Garvin Ambrose

Ambrose was the unanimous top choice of an advisory committee that interviewed 10 candidates in December, Malloy said. Under state law, the committee had to give the governor a list of at least five finalists.

Cruz, an appointee of former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, had a rocky relationship with the Malloy administration and some victims' groups, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Her term expired in April, but she remains in the post until a successor is confirmed.

She was a critic of a risk reduction credit program endorsed by the Democratic administration and criticized by Republicans. The program can reduce prison sentences.

Malloy said an advocate is free to criticize any policy at his or her discretion, but that had nothing to do with his not nominating her for a second term.

"She had the position for a period of time. The position becomes open on cycle," Malloy said. "The decision was made to cast for the every best candidate available on a national basis. We did that."

While appointed by the governor, the advocate enjoys a measure of autonomy: Unlike most other executive posts, the advocate is appointed for a term during which he or she cannot be removed by a governor.

"Every advocate has to understand the independent nature of what they do and act accordingly," Malloy said.

Cruz had conflicts with a previous advisory committee, which had oversight authority over her office. An Associated Press story last year reported that she was criticized by the committee as "antagonistic" and "combative."

"I've never been reprimanded for my performance by either administration," she told The Litchfield County Times last fall after a speech in Torrington, where she seemed to be campaigning for her job.

In 2011, a provision attached to a budget implementation bill reconstituted the committee and stripped the panel of that role, leaving it with the sole job of screening candidates for the advocate's job.

The change forced the departure of members of victims' groups, such as Janice Heggie Margolis, the executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Margolis said today the oversight panel had conflicts with Cruz, but she declined further comment.

Cruz, who interviewed for the job, said her name was among the five forwarded to the governor. Malloy said he interviewed the top two, as ranked by the committee.

Ambrose, who has been a prosecutor in Chicago since 2005, sought a job in Connecticut to join his wife, Toya Ambrose, the coach of the University of Connecticut's cheerleading, dance and mascot programs since 2010.

According to a resume he posted on online as he sought a job in Connecticut, his assignments included everything from juvenile to organized crime cases.

For the past four years, he has worked on public policy, acting as liaison to the state legislature, frequently testifying before lawmakers. Ambrose said he will be advocate for victims in individual cases, as well as more broadly before the legislature.

"It should be a blend," Ambrose said.

According to the minutes of the advisory committee, the panel interviewed 10 applicants Dec. 12. The only one of the five members absent was Cathy Malloy, the governor's wife. The former director of a rape crisis center, she had been appointed by then-House Speaker Christopher Donovan.

Malloy said his wife decided to absent herself from the interviews to avoid the appearance of a conflict.

The panel was composed of appointees by the governor and legislative leaders from both parties. Malloy's appointee was former state Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, his adviser on criminal justice issues.