December 20, 2013 09:56AM
By Susan Haigh
HARTFORD — Appellate Court Judge Richard Robinson appeared to be on track Thursday to become Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s fourth appointment to the state Supreme Court.
Democratic Sen. Eric Coleman, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, said during an off-session confirmation hearing he “doesn’t anticipate any issue or difficulty” with Robinson’s nomination moving successfully through the legislative process.
“I’m extremely excited concerning your nomination,” said Coleman, adding how Robinson has a reputation as a conscientious and thoughtful jurist, someone who’s a “straight shooter” and “fantastic colleague.”
Malloy tapped Robinson to succeed Justice Flemming Norcott Jr., who reached the mandatory judge retirement age of 70 in October. Robinson first was appointed to the Superior Court bench in 2000 by former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland. He was promoted to the Appellate Court in 2007 by former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Robinson is the only black judge on the Appellate Court, the state’s second-highest court. If confirmed by the full General Assembly, which convenes in February, he would be the only black justice on the state’s highest court.
The high court has eight members, including a senior justice, who also has reached the retirement age and serves as needed. Norcott is black, one justice is Hispanic and the rest are white.
While lawmakers appeared to have little concern with Robinson’s judicial record or his answers to the committee’s questionnaire, veteran Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, questioned some remarks Malloy made when he announced the appointment this month. Malloy, when asked about what he looks for in Supreme Court nominees, said he seeks potential justices “who have good common sense and understand real-life situations.”
Malloy then added, “Quite frankly, if they pull for the underdog once in a while, it wouldn’t bother me.”
O’Neill said that comment “raised some red flags” because judges aren’t supposed to show favoritism based on social standing. When he asked Robinson if he’s made decisions in support of “the underdog,” the nominee said no. “I firmly believe going where the law takes me,” he said.
O’Neill appeared satisfied, saying, “I think that’s the right answer and the best answer to be given.”
During other portions of the hearing, Robinson assured legislators that he believes in following the legislature’s intent behind a law. He said he typically reads transcripts of debates and reviews a law’s legislative history.
Robinson, 56, was born in Stamford and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Connecticut in 1979. He graduated from the West Virginia University School of Law in 1984 and went on to work as staff counsel for the city of Stamford law department. He was assistant corporation counsel in Stamford until he was appointed a judge.
Robinson also was a member of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities from 1997 to 2000 and the commission’s chairman in 1999 and 2000.
Rep. Gerald Fox, D-Stamford, the committee’s co-chairman, worked with Robinson when he served as assistant corporation counsel.
“You’ve always conducted yourself with professionalism, the appropriate demeanor I think we all look for in judges,” Fox said.
Several lawmakers praised Robinson for his humility. Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, who met privately with Robinson on Wednesday, said she was struck by how he gave credit for his success to his past clerks, some of whom sat in the audience for Thursday’s hearing.