Malloy mints millionaires, er, nominates judges

There is no better lottery in Connecticut than the Gov. Dannel Malloy judge nominating machine.

Just ask Judge Tim Bates of Noank, a Malloy nominee who reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 this month.

Bates, who was seated as a Superior Court judge in 2014, is now eligible for a pension equal to two thirds of his judge's salary, about $110,000 a year.

Tell me where else you could score that kind of jackpot, working four years to acquire a six-figure pension for the rest of your life. Someone who lives long enough could easily see a payoff in the millions of dollars.

This was such a patronage scam, that General Assembly Republicans tried to shut it down in 2014. They made a dent, but hardly strangled this golden judiciary goose.

Since the law changed in 2014, new judges appointed to the bench will see their full two-thirds of the salary pension reduced by 10 percent for each year less than 10 years they served.

That means that 66-year-old former state Sen. Eric Coleman, whom Malloy nominated this month, will get a pension of about only $44,000 when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 four years from now. Of course, like other retired judges, he can augment that with per-diem assignments.

No wonder Malloy has been so busy nominating judges on his way out the door, choosing lots of Democratic insiders. He nominated some 30 people as trial judges this month, and as many as seven were over the age of 60.

To his credit, Malloy, in all his years of nominating judges, has emphasized women and minorities and has worked toward a more diverse judiciary. He has had an enormous impact.

But that doesn't excuse the excessive and obvious partisanship, the excessive rewarding of party leaders and operatives. The appointments make for a tangled web of Democratic insiders, office holders and their families.

Asked about this, Malloy told the Connecticut Mirror that he doesn't want to penalize anyone for being well connected.

That's cute, Governor, but snide. I generally like Malloy for his policies and values but I can see why his arrogance makes him one of the most disliked governors in the country.

State Sen. Heather Somers of Groton called out Malloy in a recent story in The Day but then pulled her punch.

"Is this just the governor's parting gift?" Somers said of the big batches of recent nominations, then added, "I don't know."

Actually, Senator, the answer is quite clearly yes. It's obvious this is his parting gift.

Of course the crime here is that the state doesn't need all these well-compensated judges earning cushy pensions the state can't afford, at a time when crime rates are down and court support staff has been dramatically reduced.

Never mind the squads of retired judges prepared to work by the day to supplement their $100,000-a-year pensions. There is no lack of judges to hear cases.

The governor contends he was being, well, judicious in leaving vacant nine more openings that are included in the budget. There could even be another 10, by statute. But there is nothing to indicate they are really needed.

Indeed, some legislators have balked at seating new judges when there isn't even the support staff in the court system needed to accommodate them.

This would have been a better fight for Republicans to wage this session than denying the governor his choice for chief justice.

Shut down the expensive judge-making political patronage machine, which Malloy loves running like no other part of government, and commission an analysis of just how many judges are too many.

This is a time of budget reckoning and cuts in Connecticut. Put the sweet judgeships on the block while you are cutting social programs and education funding.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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