New judges endorsed despite outcry over judicial pensions

State legislators voted Friday to confirm the judicial nominations of Anthony V. Avallone and Timothy D. Bates, two 66-year-old lawyers who will be eligible to collect annual pensions of more than $100,000 at age 70, after less than four years of service.

Avallone, a Democratic National Committee member and former state senator from New Haven, was confirmed on votes of 29 to 5 in the Senate and 97 to 30 in the House. Bates was confirmed in the House, 107 to 28. A Senate vote on Bates was expected Tuesday.

No one questioned their competence, but several objected to the prospect of them so quickly getting what one legislator described as a “gold-plated” pension. By state law, a full judicial pension is two-thirds of final salary, now $154,559 for a Superior Court judge.

Any judge reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 is entitled to a full pension, regardless of how briefly they serve. Otherwise, normal vesting is 10 years, with retirement allowed at 65. A proposal to reduce judicial pensions of those with less than 10 years of services has yet to be embraced by Democratic leaders.

“It’s such an outrageous system that it just begs for reform,” said Rep. Steven T. Mikutel, D-Griswold. “You change the system, I’ll vote for these judges.”

Avallone and Bates were among 16 nominees to the Superior Court  up for confirmation Friday. The House endorsed all 16, while the Senate endorsed eight. The remaining eight are expected to be approved when the Senate returns Tuesday.

In both chambers, legislators said the pension system was the fault of the General Assembly, not any judicial nominee.

“That’s not Sen. Avallone’s fault,” said Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “He should not be penalized because of the system.”

“I am going to vote no, not based on anything he has done,” said Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, who says he could not justify seeing anyone get such a pension on such limited service. “Hopefully, we’ll do something to fix it.”

Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he would vote against any judicial nominee who will be unable to serve at least eight years on the bench. Judges, who are appointed to eight-year terms, generally are reappointed until the reach the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Senate Democratic leaders have been non-committal about a proposal that would reduce pensions for judges who serve less than 10 years, beginning with those appointed after July 1.

Voting no were one Democrat, Dante Bartolomeo of Meriden, and four Republicans: Guglielmo, Rob Kane of Watertown, Toni Boucher of Wilton and John McKinney of Fairfield.

Avallone and Bates were two of four lawyers up for confirmation who would qualify for maximum pensions after fewer than 10 years of service. The other two are Irene Prosky Jacobs and Steven Spellman, both 62, whose nominations were endorsed by the Senate on 31-3 votes.

Spellman, a former state senator, was confirmed on an 87 to 42 vote in the House, where objections centered on his lack of courtroom experience, not his age. He has been chief of staff and director of government affairs at the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

In all, 10 of the 38 Superior Court nominations made by Malloy since he took office in January 2011 went to lawyers age 61 or older. The oldest was Maurice B. Mosley, a former Democratic legislator from Waterbury, who turned 67 four months after his nomination. Avallone turns 67 in December, Bates turned 66 two weeks ago.

Mosley was confirmed a year ago without controversy.

The prospect of six-figure pensions for three-plus years of service has prompted one Democratic senator and two Republicans to separately propose reducing the pensions of judges who serve less than 10 years. The changes would be prospective, applying only to future nominees.

Leo Diana of Manchester was confirmed by votes 32 to 3 in the Senate and 125 to 4 in the House.

The opposition to him had more to do with complaints about the legislature’s unwillingness to dramatically overhaul the family court system than questions about the qualifications of Diana, who has an extensive family-law practice, McKinney said.

McKinney, one of the three senators to oppose Diana’s nomination, said he voted no knowing it would not block the appointment.

Two appellate nominees, Raheem L. Mullins and Eliot D. Prescott, also were up for confirmation. Mullins was approved by the House and Senate. Prescott was confirmed by the House and is expected to win final approval Tuesday.

The Superior Court nominees:

  • Avallone is a self-employed lawyer with offices in New Haven and Milford. A registered lobbyist, he also is general counsel to the Manufacturing Alliance of Connecticut. He is a B.A. from the University of Connecticut and a J.D. from Suffolk University School of Law.
  •  Bates, who lives in Groton, is a partner at Robinson and Cole, practicing in its New London office. Previously, he served with several law firms in New London County. He has a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Columbia Law School.
  • Spellman of Groton. He is a former Democratic state senator who is chief of staff and director of government affairs at the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. Spellman has a B.A. from Union College and a J.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Jacobs of West Haven. She is a partner with Jacobs & Jacobs in New Haven, practices civil litigation. She also was a middle school and high school teacher in New Haven and St. Louis. She has a B.A. from SUNY Buffalo, an M.A. from Wesleyan University and a J.D. from University of Connecticut School of Law.
  • Diana, 52, of Manchester. He is the Democratic mayor, a title granted to the top vote-getter in the election for its local governing body, the Board of Directors. He has a B.A. from the University of Connecticut and a J.D. from Western New England School of Law.
  • Steven D. Ecker, 53, of New Haven. He  is a partner with Cowdery, Ecker & Murphy in Hartford. He was a law clerk for  Jon O. Newman of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Ecker has a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.
  • Tammy D. Geathers, 51, of Bloomfield. She is assistant attorney general, serving in the Employment Rights Department since 2001. She is a former public defender in Hartford and Atlanta. She has B.A. from Howard University and a J.D. from University of Connecticut School of Law.
  • Jane K. Grossman, 45, of Hamden. She is currently serving a three-year term as a family support magistrate, appointed by Malloy in 2011.  She is a former legal aid lawyer in New Haven. Grossman received a B.A. from Quinnipiac University and a J.D. from Quinnipiac University School of Law.
  • Ingrid L. Moll, 41, of West Hartford. She is a trial and appellate attorney with Motley Rice, focusing on complex commercial litigation and consumer protection.  She was a law clerk to Justice David M. Borden of the Connecticut Supreme Court from 1999 to 2001. She has a B.A. from Wheaton College and a J.D. from University of Connecticut School of Law.
  • John D. Moore, 60, of West Hartford. He is associate group general counsel with Travelers Special Liability Group, where he has served since 1990. He was a teacher at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford, where he taught English and Religious Studies. He has a B.A. and a M.A.L.S. from Wesleyan University a J.D. from University of Connecticut School of Law.
  • Kevin J. Murphy, 56, of Berlin. He is a supervisory assistant state’s attorney  in Bristol and a former federal prosecutor and Navy lawyer.  He has a B.A. from Georgetown University College of Arts and Sciences and a J.D. from Catholic University School of Law.
  • Robert Nastri Jr., 58, of Cheshire. He is a partner with Tinley, Nastri, Renehan & Dost in Waterbury and was a municipal police officer.  He has a B.A. from Wesleyan University and a J.D. from University of Connecticut School of Law.
  • Cesar A. Noble, 56, of West Hartford. He is president and managing partner of Noble, Spector & O’Connor in Hartford. He also a member of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. He has a B.A. from Wesleyan University and a J.D. from University of Connecticut School of Law.
  • Rupal Shah Palanki, 41, of West Hartford. She has been an assistant attorney general for 11 years. She received her B.A. from College of the Holy Cross and her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.
  • Kevin S. Russo, 53, of Shelton. He is a supervisory assistant state’s attorney, a position he has held since 2007. Previous jobs include an FBI post and six years as a union ironworker. He has a B.S. from Southern Connecticut State University and a J.D. from Western New England College School of Law.
  • Erika M. Tindill, 44,  of New Haven. She is the chairwoman of the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles, appointed in 2011 by Malloy. She has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a J.D. from Albany Law School.

Avallone, Diana, Geather, Jacobs, Moore, Nastri, Russo and Spellman were confirmed by both chambers. The other eight cleared the House, with Senate approval expected Tuesday.

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