A more diverse judiciary, including a leader’s brother-in-law

mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

From the cauldron of merit, achievement and political connections is emerging the last class of judges to be appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat who has opened the doors to women and minorities, groups historically lacking the connections helpful to those trying to navigate the lightly mapped path to becoming a judge in Connecticut.

Over two days this week, Malloy has nominated 16 Superior Court judges, one Appellate Court judge, and an associate and chief justice of the Supreme Court. Half of the new Superior Court nominees are women, who have outnumbered men in law schools since 2016 but still hold fewer than 40 percent of judicial positions in the state courts.

While Malloy has embraced a more inclusive approach to judicial nominations, he has not turned away applications from lawyers who happen to have useful connections. One of his nominees is Joseph B. Schwartz, 35, the brother-in-law of House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, and son-in-law of the former House speaker, Thomas D. Ritter. Another is Nuala E. Droney, 39, the daughter of John F. Droney Jr., the former Democratic state chairman. 

Malloy also nominated two former Democratic lawmakers: Eric D. Coleman, a 66-year-old former state senator who can only serve until the mandatory retirement age of 70; and James F. Spallone, 52, a former House member and deputy secretary of state who now serves as chief counsel to the House Democratic majority.

Malloy deflected a question Thursday about the role family and political connections play in judicial selections, wryly suggesting no one should be penalized for being well connected. “I’ve never wanted any of my brothers to be punished because I am the governor,” said Malloy, the youngest of seven brothers. “How about that?”

(For the record, none of the governor’s brothers are among his judicial nominees.)

With or without a politically prominent father, Nuala Droney could easily have come to the attention of a governor eager to see more women on the bench. She is a partner at Robinson & Cole in Hartford, where she was a founding member of the firm’s program to provide free legal services to family-violence victims. She is a graduate of Yale College and the University of Virginia School of Law.

Schwartz is a partner in Murtha Cullina in Hartford. He is married to the sister of House Majority Leader Ritter, who says he will recuse himself from Schwartz’s confirmation. Ritter’s mother, Christine E. Keller, also is a judge, appointed to the Superior Court by Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. in 1993 and to the Appellate Court by Malloy in 2013.

If confirmed, Coleman will be the third former Democratic lawmaker nominated as a Superior Court judge by Malloy at the age of 66. The others are former Rep. Maurice B. Mosley of Waterbury and former Sen. Anthony V. Avallone of New Haven, who each will qualify for $100,000 annual pensions after four years of service.

Mosley was confirmed without controversy, but the nomination of Avallone prompted the passage of a law that ended awarding judges full pensions at age 70, regardless of years of service. A full pension is two-thirds of the current judicial salary of more than $150,000. Under current law, judicial pensions are reduced by 10 percent for each year less than 10 years of service. 

The governor is limited in his choices to candidates screened and approved by the Judicial Selection Commission, a mix of lawyers and non-lawyers appointed by the governor and legislative leaders. The creation of the commission in 1986 was intended to demystify a process then beyond the reach of many lawyers.

Malloy is expected to nominate more Superior Court judges next week. The trial bench has 42 vacancies.

His Superior Court nominees are:

  • Barbara D. Aaron, 60, of West Hartford. Aaron is a partner at Berman, Bourns, Aaron & Dembo in Hartford. She is co-chair of the Family Law Committee of the Hartford County Bar Association. She has a bachelor’s degree from American University and a law degree from the Brooklyn Law School.
  • Eugene R. Calistro, Jr., 59, of Guilford. Calistro is senior assistant state’s attorney and special assistant to the U.S. attorney for Connecticut. He is a graduate of the University of New Haven, where he received his bachelor of arts in political science, and the Walter F. George School of Law of Mercer University, where he received his J.D. degree.
  • Suzanne E. Caron, 62, of Bloomfield. Caron is a partner with Caron & Parris in Vernon, where she practices family law. She also has worked as an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law. She is a graduate of Bates College and the UConn School of Law.
  • Courtney M. Chaplin, 32, of Manchester. Chaplin is a deputy assistant state’s attorney. He is  treasurer of the George W. Crawford Black Bar Association, a member of the Client Security Fund Committee, the Connecticut Bar Association’s Legislative Policy and Review Committee and its Statewide Opioid Taskforce. He is a graduate of Wofford College and the Howard University School of Law.
  • Robert W. Clark, 46, of Durham. Clark serves as special counsel to the Connecticut attorney general. His duties include overseeing the office’s legislative initiatives and responding to legal and public policy inquiries from legislators, constitutional officers, and state agency heads. He previously worked in the special litigation department. He is a graduate of UConn and the UConn School of Law.
  • Eric D. Coleman, 66, of Bloomfield. He is a solo practitioner who served in the House of Representatives from 1983 to 1995 and in the Senate from 1995 to 2017. He serves on the boards of Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Humanidad, the Community Renewal Team, and Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church. He is a graduate of Columbia University and the University of Connecticut School of Law.
  • Tracy Lee Dayton, 48, of Weston. Dayton is a partner with Levine Lee, where she is a trial and appellate lawyer, specializing in white-collar and securities enforcement defense, investigations, and complex litigation. She is a former federal prosecutor. She is a graduate of Princeton University and the Boalt Hall School of Law of the University of California at Berkeley.
  • 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.
  • Stephanie A. McLaughlin, 45, of Stamford. McLaughlin is the executive director of the Stamford Hospital Foundation. She is former partner at Sandak Hennessey & Greco in Stamford and former assistant to the chief of staff for the Peace Corps. She is a graduate of American University and the DePaul University College of Law.
  • Margarita Hartley Moore, 54, of Stratford. Hartley Moore is a 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.
  • Maureen Price-Boreland, 59, of Durham. Price-Boreland is executive director of Community Partners in Action, a nonprofit organization that provides community justice and re-entry programming for ex-offenders. She is a member of the Governor’s Cabinet on Nonprofit Health and Human Services, the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Criminal Justice System, and the Steering Committee of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance. She is a graduate of Central Connecticut State University and the University of Connecticut School of Law.
  • Stuart D. Rosen, 61, of Avon. Rosen is a partner in the litigation department of Robinson & Cole in Hartford, where he has worked since 2014 as a member of the business litigation and insurance/reinsurance groups. He is a member of the Board of Directors for Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hartford. He is a graduate of the University of Connecticut and the Columbus School of Law of the Catholic University of America.
  • Joseph B. Schwartz, 35, of West Hartford. Schwartz is a partner with Murtha Cullina in Hartford. He is a former member of the Board of Trustees for the University of Connecticut School of Law Foundation. He is a graduate of The George Washington University and the University of Connecticut 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
  • James Field Spallone, 52, of Essex. Spallone is the chief legal counsel to the Democratic caucus of the state House of Representatives, of which he was a member for 10 years. He also is the former deputy secretary of the state. He is a graduate of Williams College and the University of Connecticut School of Law.

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