Report: Ex-justices aided lawmakers before nominee rejection

HARTFORD — Two former Connecticut Supreme Court justices advised Republican state lawmakers in last month's successful effort to reject Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's nominee for chief justice, according to emails and a state lawmaker.

Hearst Connecticut Media reports that former Justices C. Ian McLachlan and Peter T. Zarella aided lawmakers in defeating the nomination of Andrew McDonald, who would have been the first openly gay state chief justice in the country. Both McLachlan and Zarella were nominated by Republican governors.

The media group obtained emails showing Republican lawmakers asked the former justices about McDonald's legal decisions.

McLachlan, a justice on the state's highest court from 2009 to 2012, provided advice to GOP legislators on strategies to defeat McDonald's nomination, and Zarella, who served from 2001 to 2016, took part in the effort, the media group reported.

McLachlan did not respond to requests for comment. Zarella said he didn't have any contact with legislators regarding McDonald. Both now work at a Hartford law firm.

McLachlan's cousin, Republican state Sen. Michael McLachlan, said they and Zarella did discuss McDonald's nomination.

Malloy on Friday said McLachlan and Zarella were "cowards" who "undermined" the judiciary by conspiring with Republicans instead of testifying before the legislature.

"To try to do it any other way is far below the conduct you would expect from someone who served on the Connecticut Supreme Court," Malloy said. "It's Trumpian politics infecting Connecticut."

McDonald's nomination narrowly cleared the House, but the Senate voted 19-16 against it. The votes were mostly along party lines, with Republicans opposing McDonald.

Republicans said they were concerned McDonald was a liberal "activist" judge and was too close with Malloy. McDonald was the governor's legal counsel before joining the Supreme Court in 2013, and previously was a Democratic state senator.

Malloy and Democrats accused Republicans of having an anti-gay bias — which the GOP denied.

Malloy has nominated Supreme Court Justice Richard Robinson for the judiciary's top job. Robinson would be the state's first black chief justice.

 

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