The House of Representatives acted quickly and unanimously Monday to confirm Richard A. Robinson as chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, but Republicans pledged to oppose every new trial judge recently nominated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as unnecessary and unaffordable.
The confirmation of the 60-year-old Robinson on a 146-0 vote came after barely five minutes of discussion. Robinson, an associate justice who was Malloy’s choice after the rejection of Associate Justice Andrew J. McDonald as chief, will be the first black chief justice of the state’s highest court.
The House also voted unanimously to confirm Judge Steve D. Ecker, 57, as an associate justice. Interim Associate Justice Maria Araujo Kahn of Cheshire, was confirmed for a full eight-year term on the high court. The nominations of Robinson, Ecker and Kahn now go to the Senate.
Earlier Monday, the House began a series of party-line votes to confirm 31 new Superior Court judges, the last class of judicial nominees from a governor leaving office in January.
“We don’t need to find the money somewhere because we don’t need all of these judges,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said.
The governor added two nominees to the list Friday who were intended to assure the group’s confirmations: One was sought by the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus; the other was backed by Republican leadership in the evenly divided Senate.
The two late nominees, Norma I. Sanchez-Figueroa of South Windsor and Jennifer Macierowski of Windsor, will have Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings Wednesday. Macierowski is the Senate GOP’s director of research and top legal adviser.
The first of the nominees to come to a vote Monday, Suzanne E. Caron of Bloomfield, was confirmed on a vote of 77 to 71. Democrats Daniel Rovero of Killingly and Minnie Gonzalez of Hartford voted with the GOP in opposition to Caron.
On the next vote, for Stephanie A. McLaughlin of Stamford, Rovero was the only Democrat to vote with the Republicans.
According to data provided lawmakers by the Judicial Branch, the cost of employing a Superior Court judge, excluding fringe benefits but including essential support staff, is $291,410 per year. For all 31 positions, that represents $9.03 million.
The branch anticipates that 11 current judges will retire between now and June 30, 2019, saving $3.2 million per year. Even with that savings, the net cost for judge positions would rise by $5.8 million if all nominations are confirmed.
Rep. Rosa Rebimbas of Naugatuck, the ranking House Republican on the Judiciary Committee, added it would be particularly “fiscally irresponsible” to confirm all of these judges, given the state’s fiscal challenges and the other needs of the Judicial Branch.
“We need clerks,” she said. “We need court monitors, and for the safety of all …. We need court marshals.”
“It has nothing to do with their qualifications,” Klarides said. “I am sure they are all qualified.”
The minority leader added she would consider supporting confirming a smaller number of judges, about 15, but “it has become very clear the governor is not interested in that, nor have we seen any interest in the other side of the aisle.”
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, declined to comment on the GOP caucus’s position.
The Judicial Branch has indicated on several occasions that it would not comment on judicial nominations, saying they are a political matter to be settled by the governor and the legislature. Branch officials have said they would answer questions from the legislature and governor regarding the branch budget and court caseloads.