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State Senate OKs judge nominees despite issues with pensions

By Johanna Somers

Publication: theday.com

Published April 25. 2014 5:01PM   Updated April 26. 2014 11:49PM

HartfordTwo lawyers who have less than five years left to serve as judges on the Connecticut Superior Court before they are required to retire at age 70 and become eligible for a $100,000 annual pension were confirmed by lawmakers on Friday.

Anthony V. Avallone, 66, who was nominated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, was confirmed by a 29-5 Senate vote and a 97-30 House of Representatives vote. He must take an oath of office before beginning to serve as a Superior Court judge.

The House also voted in a 107-28 vote to confirm the governor’s nomination of New London attorney Timothy Bates, who turns 66 this month, to Superior Court. The Senate will vote on Bates’ nomination next.

“Our constituents, I know many of mine are shocked to hear that under the current system, that you can be a judge for as little as one year and still draw a pension of $100,000 for life,” said state Rep. Steve Mikutel, D-Griswold.

Lawmakers said they were frustrated that the nominees would be eligible for large pensions with such little time on the bench, but the majority said it wasn’t the nominees’ fault the law was written the way it was.

“We might agree or not agree, but state employees are playing by the rules, and if we don’t like the rules, it is up to us to change the rules,” said state Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield.

State Sen. Len Fasano said that Avallone applied for the position years ago and it wasn’t his fault that the state just now decided to nominate him. Avallone is a self-employed attorney with offices in New Haven and Milford.

It is unfortunate that Avallone will be unable to serve for a long time, but he has a strong record of serving the people of Connecticut, said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven.

Avallone served as a state senator in the General Assembly from 1983 to 1993, representing New Haven. During that time, he served as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the Commerce Committee and the Public Safety Committee.

In the House, state Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Groton, said she supported Bates’ nomination because he has wide experience with estates and land use and a longstanding record of community service.

Bates, a partner at Robinson and Cole, practices in the law firm’s New London office.

There were Democratic and Republican lawmakers who said they couldn’t support the nomination of lawyers who had few years to serve and would get $100,000 annually in pensions.

“As a representative elected by the people of Connecticut to be the guardian of their tax dollars, I cannot support moving someone into their judgeship so late,” said state Rep. Debralee Hovey, R-Monroe.

Democratic state Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, said she couldn’t vote in favor of Avallone’s confirmation based on principle. She has proposed legislation to prevent someone who works for less than 10 years from obtaining the maximum pension.

Besides being able to collect a pension after such few years of service, retired judges can return to work and serve as trial judge referee or senior judge and earn $232 per day.

“It’s time to reform the system, stop the process,” Mikutel said. “We change the system; I will vote for these judges. But we need to know what is really going on here and act accordingly.”

Last month, Malloy announced 16 Superior Court nominees; Bates and Avallone were the oldest nominees.

“In selecting judicial nominees and reviewing the pool of candidates, I look to choose individuals with the experience, temperament and skills to be thoughtful, reasoned and fair jurists,” Malloy said in his announcement.

j.somers@theday.com

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