Slossberg recuses herself from McDonald confirmation vote

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CtMirror.org

Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford

Sen. Gayle Slossberg has recused herself from voting on the nomination of Andrew J. McDonald for chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court — a move that could hinder McDonald’s chances of confirmation.

Slossberg, a Milford Democrat, confirmed Tuesday only that she reported a conflict to legislative leadership and would refrain from any floor debate or vote.

Her statement came one day after a marathon confirmation hearing that included testimony about a case involving the senator’s husband, attorney David Slossberg — a case heard by McDonald.

“I have a conflict,” Slossberg said. “I have to do the right thing and recuse myself.”

She added only that there are 35 other state senators and 151 members of the House of Representatives who must now decide whether to confirm McDonald.

But every vote could be crucial in this matter.

While McDonald breezed through his confirmation as an associate justice on the high court five years ago with a Democrat-controlled legislature. The confirmation vote in January 2013 was 33-3 in the Senate and 125-20 in the House.

But Republicans have since gained seats in both chambers. The Senate now is split 18-18, and the GOP trails by just eight seats in the House.

Clarice Silber / CTMirror.org

Andrew McDonald answers questions during his confirmation hearing for chief justice.

And while Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was only halfway into his first term when he nominated McDonald as an associate justice, the governor politically is more vulnerable than he was five years ago.

Malloy has one year left in his second term, is not seeking re-election, and was largely isolated from both parties last fall when they excluded his staff from negotiations on a new state budget.

A Judiciary Committee hearing that ran 13 hours Monday and early Tuesday on McDonald’s nomination as chief justice concluded with a 20-20 tie vote — largely along party lines — on a motion to support confirmation. The vote allowed the nomination to move on to the full legislature but with an unfavorable recommendation.

During the hearing GOP lawmakers pressed McDonald on his Supreme Court vote to abolish Connecticut’s death penalty, his record as a Democratic legislator, and his friendship with Malloy.

They also focused on McDonald’s support in the legislature for an unsuccessful and controversial bill in 2009 that would have given lay members of the Roman Catholic Church more control of parish finances, an action criticized as an intrusion into church affairs.

Another issue raised in the hearing involved the Slossbergs, who are both lawyers, and affidavits they filed in December 2014 supporting a motion that McDonald recuse himself from a civil matter before the Supreme Court.

In her affidavit, the senator wrote that her relationship with McDonald “began to sour” when her husband was defending against a previous lawsuit brought by McDonald’s spouse, Charles Gray.

The lawmaker wrote that the situation became untenable two years after Malloy tapped McDonald, a longtime friend, to become his chief legal counsel.

During a meeting in June 2012 to discuss a legislative proposal, “McDonald started screaming at me at the top of his lungs in a very personal and shocking manner,” Gayle Slossberg wrote.

Opposing counsel in the civil matter fought the motion to disqualify McDonald, countering that heated exchanges are common, both in politics and in litigation, and that the comments between him and Slossberg had nothing to do with the case.

The justice did not respond immediately to a request for comment left with a spokeswoman for the Judicial Branch. She declined to comment on McDonald’s behalf.

Malloy — who like Senator Slossberg and McDonald — is a Democrat, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon attacking GOP lawmakers for “partisan tactics” employed at the hearing. But the governor did not address Slossberg’s recusal.

“I am greatly disappointed by the partisan tactics that pervaded Justice McDonald’s nomination hearing before the Judiciary Committee yesterday,” Malloy said. “These antics undermine the integrity of our process – a process that should be based on an objective analysis of issues and facts. They would also impact the behavior of Connecticut judges who would now live in fear of a partisan legislature intent on distorting their positions through a political lens.”

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, also issued a strong statement of support for McDonald — a Democrat and former state senator who served with Looney.

“No longer confined to President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., the politics of hate and bigotry that is seeping into the Republican mainstream is now front and center here in Connecticut,” Looney said. “Justice McDonald and other judicial nominees have been under attack by the homophobic, anti-Semitic dark corners of the internet.”

Clarice Silber / CTMirror.org

Sen. John Kissel, Republican Senate co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Senate Republican leader Len Fasano discuss the McDonald nomination.

Looney noted that McDonald’s nomination is supported by the president of the Connecticut Bar Association, the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, and the law school deans of Yale University, Quinnipiac University and the University of Connecticut.

Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven responded Tuesday that charges of partisan politics were “outlandish” and that Senate Republicans are undertaking a thorough review of cases McDonald has heard.

“The decision is going to be based upon what one believes the direction of the Supreme Court” should be, Fasano said. “This is going to be decided on the merits.”

Fasano added the governors’ comments amount to bullying. “He just pushes things through. He’s not going to bully us.

Sen. John Kissel of Enfield, the Senate Republican chair of the Judiciary Committee, rejected any suggestion that some Republicans oppose McDonald because he would be the first openly gay chief justice in Connecticut history.

“It strikes me as similar to the identity politics that’s practiced in Washington, D.C., that we really don’t want to follow here in the state of Connecticut,” Kissel said. He added that the committee hearing Monday and Tuesday focused on case work and on McDonald’s close ties to the governor, and not on sexual orientation.

Malloy nominated McDonald last November to lead the Supreme Court when Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers announced she would retire in February.

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