May
29

Cushy Judicial Pensions

Oh, Dannell, what a disappointment you are. The governor's been pumping the judiciary full of geriatric pals, positioning them for $100,000 a year pensions after serving a few short years on the bench. When lawmakers tried to put an end to the practice, the governor's men tucked an amendment onto the legislation. It's politics as usual in Hartford.

In less than one term in the governor's mansion, Dannell P. Malloy has appointed 10 men and women to the bench who are aged 61 or older. Under state law, judges must retire at age 70. But judges are eligible for a full pension the day after their appointment. Hence, in the newest batch of Solons, two 66-year-olds will hit the judicial lotto jackpot, which includes health benefits for life, after fewer than four years of service.

And I thought only corporate CEOs benefitted from get-rich-quick schemes.

According to The Hartford Courant, lawmakers were poised to turn off the pension tap. Under legislation proposed by Democrat Sen. Dante Bartolomeo of Meriden, the annual pension of a judge would be reduced by 10 percent for each year a judge served under 10 years. As drafted, the bill proposed a reduction "if a judge … has served fewer than 10 years." One of the governor's goons changed the language to read: "if a judge … has fewer than 10 years of state service credit...." This change permitted part-time lawmakers appointed to judgeships to get the full pension rides.

The architect for this swillery (yes, that's a new word) is the governor's budget director. He justifies it by saying the language was intended to entice what he apparently called "fabulous" state agency lawyers to become judges by assuring that they would not lose pension ground under the Bartolomeo proposal. That's nonsense. Quick. Name the last agency "superstar" to head for the bench.

(Note to Dannell: What about all the fabulous lawyers in private practice who would look good in a robe – don't they deserve a little pension magic? Oh, yeah, I forgot: they weren't hod-carrying members of the political class.)

The more likely explanation for the legislative change is that Malloy and his minions just wanted to feather the nests of party loyalists nearing retirement. Apparently, the governor's idea of merit selection places great weight on partisan loyalty.

It is difficult to understand why judges are required to retire at age 70 in the first instance. Plenty of lawyers practice well beyond that age, and remain much sought after and effective advocates. Judges, without the stress and strain of courting clients while attending calendar calls, can easily serve well beyond 70. They should be permitted to do so if they so desire, and required to do so if they intend to retire with a handsome pension and lifetime health benefits.

Judges are a necessary feature in the courts. I get that. Someone has to want the job. But candidates should desire the job as something other than a sinecure. Service should mean something more than punching a clock for a couple of years before retiring. In Dannell Malloy's tawdry little world, a judgeship is just a plum to pass out to pals.

We deserve better, governor. Shame on you.•

 

 

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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis

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