Andrew J. McDonald, the former co-chair of the legislative Judiciary Committee, won that panel's overwhelming but not unanimous approval Monday to become a state Supreme Court justice. The lawyer-dominated committee voted 40-2 to send the nomination of McDonald, who is currently chief counsel in the governor's office, to the full General Assembly.
The panel also unanimously approved eight-year terms for 10 Superior Court judges, and another term for Appellate Court Judge J. Herbert Greundel.
The questioning, which for other judicial nominees in recent years has been lengthy and probing, was almost cursory. However, Republican lawmakers asked some pointed questions about McDonald's backing of a controversial 2009 bill to alter the internal power organization of Catholic parishes and to give lay leaders more control over parish finances.
McDonald, a former Pullman & Comley partner, explained the measure at length. He stated that it came at the request of Thomas Gallagher, a Greenwich lawyer and Catholic reform activist, in an effort to create a layer of protection after two parishes suffered embezzlement losses from priests in excess of $1 million each. McDonald, who is making state history as the first openly gay Supreme Court nominee, told the lawmakers that he was raised, and baptized Catholic, and remains a church member.
In 2009, just the prospect of having a public hearing on the matter inflamed thousands of citizens, who massed at the Capitol, as mounted police helped keep order. McDonald was threatened with physical harm, he said, and the bill was widely condemned as unconstitutional. It was "boxed" by lawmakers, and never proceeded to a public hearing.
State Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, gave an impassioned explanation of the difficulty in knowing whether an issue is constitutional or not, at its earliest stages, after receiving inflammatory emails that morning from McDonald opponents.
Overall, McDonald's former legislative peers expressed admiration and gratitude for his work in the legislature and as their former leader.
Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, asked McDonald about whether his admitted personal friendship with Gov. Dannel Malloy would pose any problem if he becomes a justice. She hinted at past problems of other judicial candidates who were friendly with a governor.
McDonald, who as a lawmaker was a sharp questioner of judicial candidates, closely quizzed Joseph Mengacci in 2004 about his personal social relationship with then-Gov. John Rowland. After Mengacci became incensed, he was criticized for a lack of judicial temperament, and lost his bid for judicial reappointment.
As a lawmaker, McDonald was also a major proponent of same-sex marriage in Connecticut. The leader of the socially conservative Family Institute of Connecticut wanted lawmakers to oppose McDonald. Peter Wolfgang questions whether McDonald will be fair to ''people of traditional values.''
The Judiciary Committee plans to question another Supreme Court nominee, Appellate Judge Carmen Espinosa, later this month or in early February.