Heated Debate on Judicial Nominees
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The typically routine process of confirming state judges turned into a testy debate Friday about Connecticut’s system for awarding judicial pensions worth about $100,000 a year.
Lawmakers in both the Senate and House voiced concerns about confirming older judges who won’t finish a full eight-year term before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70. In some cases, they’ll work only several years before becoming eligible for the retirement benefit.
“A judge can serve for as little as one year, or two years or three years and have a pension of $100,000 for life,” said Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold. “It’s just not right. It’s not fair to our taxpayers.”
The discussion was sparked by two of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s nominees to the Superior Court, up for confirmation votes on Friday. While lawmakers said both men, each 66 years old, are qualified for the job, they were upset that former New Haven state Sen. Anthony Avallone and Noank attorney Timothy Bates can retire in four years.
Both candidates have said they plan to continue working as retired judges, known as trial referees.
Mikutel called on the Legislature to change the process before confirming any more judges.
“If we change the system, I’ll vote for these judges,” he said.
Avallone was approved by the Senate on a 29-5 vote. His nomination was later approved by the House, 97-30. Meanwhile, the House voted to confirm Bates on a 107-28 vote. His confirmation moved to the Senate for final legislative action.
Several lawmakers acknowledged the pension system is unusual, but urged their colleagues not to take their anger out on the qualified nominees.
“I get it. But folks, don’t take it out on a person. I’m not quite sure that’s fair,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., who said he plans to offer an amendment that would create a new pro-rated pension system before the legislative session ends May 7.
But that didn’t satisfy some of the lawmakers.
“I wasn’t elected as a state representative to protect a person’s desire to become a judge,” said Rep. Cecelia Buck-Taylor, R-New Milford. “My problem is, I don’t want to take it out on the people of Connecticut by putting people in place who can’t serve a full term before they get a full pension.”
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