Despite his ties to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration and zero experience as a judge, Andrew McDonald advanced Monday toward becoming the state's newest Supreme Court justice with a 40-2 vote by the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee.
"It is true; I have not served on the trial bench," said McDonald, a former Stamford state senator and the governor's legal counsel. "I have a deep respect for those who have, and I understand I think from my time in the courtroom and in this room … I understand challenges faced by judges on a daily basis."
His 20 years as a lawyer have included serving as litigation partner for Pullman & Comley LLC, corporation counsel for the city of Stamford and general counsel for Malloy. This experience outweighed concerns about judicial service for most legislators. Co-chairing the Judiciary Committee for eight years and maintaining positive relationships after addressing some of the state's more controversial issues such as gay marriage, transgender rights and public finance also helped McDonald get where he is today, said state Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford.
"He voted his conscience and debated his conscience," Meyer said. "I want to thank you for leading that challenge so well."
State Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he hoped the people of Connecticut understood that McDonald's position on gay marriage and transgender rights was just one of his dimensions.
"I actually believe that I saw - and this may surprise some people in this room - a sort of moderate to conservative side regarding business matters and statutes of limitations," Kissel said.
State Rep. Al Adinolfi, R-Cheshire, and state Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, voted against McDonald's nomination along with 15 other judges' nominations and one state referee's nomination, which were on the meeting agenda Monday.
During the meeting McLachlan asked McDonald about the constitutionality of an old and controversial bill sponsored by McDonald, which never passed. The bill dealt with how churches operated their internal business and arose out of two embezzlement cases in southwestern Connecticut, McDonald said. He said he could not answer whether the bill would hold up constitutionally because he had not analyzed it for that purpose. McLachlan also questioned McDonald about the legitimacy of the six-factor constitutionality test developed under the Connecticut Supreme Court case State v. Geisler in 1992. McDonald said the use of that six-factor test would depend on the facts of each case.
The other area of concern was McDonald's close relationship with Malloy. State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, and state Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, asked McDonald whether he knew when to disqualify himself from judicial cases that involved his previous work.
For example, O'Neill asked whether McDonald would disqualify himself if someone brought a suit and the governor was the defendant.
"Certainly it would depend on … every case has to be analyzed on the facts of that case if the governor is nominally named and just because there has to be a name on the pleadings I would have to analyze that," McDonald said. "If there is anything that relates to the governor personally, he is not only is a client but a personal friend of mine, and I would absolutely recuse myself."
O'Neill and Rebimbas voted in favor of McDonald.
One of the other judges who were confirmed Monday was Peter L. Brown of Hamden. He was asked questions that suggest the Judiciary Committee might look into making juvenile court cases involving mental illness public after the Newtown shooting.
Brown said he didn't know exactly how to answer a question on whether keeping these cases private was a disservice to the public. He said in some cases the probation officer monitors the delinquent.
But "obviously after the person is off probation there is no one monitoring the person and his or her whereabouts."
In child protection cases the Department of Children and Families monitors the situation, but eventually that protective supervision would end, he said.
"I can't answer what would happen after the court or state's role ends," Brown said. "I certainly think that is something the legislature will answer."