Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Thursday nominated Associate Justice Richard A. Robinson of Stratford to become chief justice of the Supreme Court, tapping a nominee first appointed as a lower-court judge by a Republican. If confirmed by the legislature, Robinson would be the first African-American leader of the state’s highest court.
The Democratic governor also nominated Judge Steven D. Ecker of New Haven to succeed Robinson as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, and five others, including former state Sen. Eric D. Coleman of Bloomfield, to the Superior Court.
“I think it’s great that we have a diverse court, and that’s the court writ large. The trial court, Appellate Court, Supreme Court is a lot more diverse troday than it was seven years ago, and quite frankly I am very proud of that,” Malloy said. “I’ve always said the court should look like the people who appear before it, and I think we’ve made great strides in that direction.”
The nomination of Robinson as chief justice is bittersweet for the Democratic governor. It came only after the state Senate voted 19-16 last week to block the confirmation of his original choice, Associate Justice Andrew J. McDonald, who would have become the first openly gay leader of any state’s highest court.
McDonald’s vote as an associate justice in a 4-3 opinion striking down the last vestiges of capital punishment in Connecticut — sentences left intact when the state repealed the death penalty for future crimes — were central to the GOP’s opposition, as well as his refusal to recuse himself in the case. McDonald was Malloy’s legal counsel when the repeal law passed.
Like McDonald, Robinson has a long history with Malloy, the former mayor of Stamford. The governor and Robinson are lawyers who got involved in public life in the city in the early 1980s. McDonald and Robinson each worked for Malloy in city hall: McDonald as corporation counsel, Robinson as assistant counsel.
And like McDonald, Robinson also was appointed to the Supreme Court by Malloy. Robinson joined the court in late 2013, trailing McDonald in seniority by 11 months and missing participation in the death penalty case.
But the 60-year-old Robinson has been a judge for nearly 18 years, named to the Superior Court by Gov. John G. Rowland in 2000 and to the Appellate Court by Gov. M. Jodi Rell in 2007. Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven, whose caucus voted as a bloc against McDonald, said he saw no confirmation difficulties.
Robinson may have been his second choice, but the governor effusively praised him.
“During his esteemed career in public and judicial service, Justice Robinson has demonstrated a keen legal acumen and incisive insight,” Malloy said. “I am confident that as chief justice, his tenure will be marked with distinction and his leadership will prove to be invaluable, should he be confirmed.”
Robinson is the former president of the Stamford branch of the NAACP and former chair of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. He is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and the West Virginia University School of Law.
Ecker, who turns 57 in two weeks, was appointed to the trial bench by Malloy in 2014. He was a partner in the Hartford law firm of Cowdery, Ecker & Murphy and clerk for Judge Jon O. Newman of the U.S. Court of Appeals. He is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School.
Malloy will be leaving office in January, having appointed every member of the Supreme Court except Richard N. Palmer, an appointee of Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.
Coleman, 66, a lawyer with a solo practice, resigned from the state Senate before the start of the legislative session in 2017 in the expectation of eventually being appointed to the bench. He was co-chair of the Judiciary Committee. He is a graduate of Columbia University and the University of Connecticut School of Law.
Also nominated Thursday to the Superior Court were:
- Nuala E. Droney, 39, of Columbia. Droney is a partner at Robinson & Cole in Hartford, where she leads the Intellectual Property Practice Team. She was a clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Alfred V. Covello. She is a graduate of Yale College and the University of Virginia School of Law. Her father is John F. Droney Jr., the former Democratic state chairman.
- Ann E. Lynch, 52, of Granby. Lynch is an assistant attorney general, leading the employment rights unit in the Office of the Connecticut Attorney General. She is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany and the University of Connecticut School of Law.
- Margarita Hartley Moore, 54, of Stratford. Hartley Moore is family-law lawyer. She is a graduate of the University of Connecticut. She has a J.D. from the New England School of Law and a master’s of law degree in environmental law from Pace University School of Law.
- James Sicilian, 62, of West Hartford. Sicilian is general counsel for the law firm of Day Pitney in Hartford. He has worked for the firm since 1982, first as an associate and then as a partner in 1989. He was a clerk to Judge Thomas J. Meskill of the U.S. Court of Appeals. He is a graduate of Bucknell University and the University of Connecticut School of Law.