Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has nominated former Stamford State Senator Andrew J. McDonald to one of two vacancies in the Connecticut Supreme Court.

A former partner at the Stamford office of Pullman & Comley, McDonald has known and worked closely with Malloy over the past 20 years, first as Stamford corporation counsel for three and a half years when Malloy was mayor, and for the past two years, as Malloy’s top legal counsel.

At a press conference in the Old Judiciary room at the capitol, Malloy’s praise was brief but unstinting: “In my estimation, Andrew possesses a unique ability to understand, research, analyze, and evaluate legal issues. These are skills that have served him well previously, and I’m sure those same skills will allow him to be a great jurist on the Connecticut Supreme Court. Malloy praised McDonald’s ability as a listener, adding, “he sometimes even listens to me.”

Malloy described McDonald as “highly principled and ethical.” A lawyer himself, Malloy cited the 2008 Connecticut landmark case of Kerrigan v. State, which guarantees marriage equality in the state. He noted, “It was my pleasure to perform the marriage of Andrew and Charles [Gray] while I was the mayor of Stamford. It was equally my pleasure to know that Andrew, when confirmed by the General Assembly, will be the first openly gay appellate jurist to serve in Connecticut’s history.”

McDonald will go before the legislative Judiciary Committee for review, and the general assembly for confirmation. As a freshman lawmaker, McDonald was given the plum assignment of Judiciary Committee co-chair in 2003, with house co-chair Michael Lawlor, currently the Malloy administrations’ criminal justice policy expert.

In his eight years as a co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, McDonald was often an incisive questioner of judges whose work left them vulnerable – on matters ranging from competence, fairness and temperament to issues of their adherence to legal technicalities. Judges appointed by Republican governors tended to fare the worst.

In 2006, McDonald and Lawlor engaged in an historic clash with the Supreme Court’s then Chief Justice, William J. Sullivan. It was triggered by a seemingly small incident, Sullivan’s effort to smooth the path of his would-be successor, Peter T. Zarella, by delaying publication of a controversial Zarella decision limiting the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, to “help” Zarella before the Judiciary Committee.

The gesture backfired disastrously, when it was viewed as an effort to deceive the legislature. Zarella, a Republican who had been nominated for the Chief Justice elevation by then-Gov. Jodi Rell, withdrew his name from consideration. Zarella remains as one of the court’s most senior associate justices and a weighty conservative voice on the court.

At the height of the 2006 clash, two “blue ribbon” executive and judicial committees engaged in an exhaustive analysis of the Judicial Branch’s policies of openness and accountability. Rell then appointed Chase T. Rogers, registered Independent, to become the current Chief Justice.

In another aspect of the 2006 clash, the legislature attempted to subpoena sitting Supreme Court justices. That became a court standoff, only to melt when the justices, including Sullivan, decided to voluntarily appear before McDonald and Lawlor’s committee, sidestepping the legal issue.

In the wake of the conflict, the judiciary adopted reforms internally. None of McDonald’s judiciary committee reform bills ever reached a final vote.

For most judges, the constitutionally-required legislative review, which McDonald will face early next year, has typically been brief, perfunctory and deferential.

Hartford appellate lawyer Wesley W. Horton, who is also an historian of the court, commented, “I think Andrew McDonald would do a good job on the court. He asked intelligent and probing questions while he was on the Judiciary Committee, which is one of the things a justice needs to do on the Supreme Court. He’s obviously well-qualified.” •