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Joseph A. Mengacci, currently serving as an interim judge of the Connecticut Superior Court, may have violated the state’s “revolving door” statute in his quest for a seat on the bench, and may be ineligible to be confirmed as a jurist, state lawmakers asserted Thursday. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal confirmed to the Connecticut Law Tribune that his office received a letter Thursday from Senate President Pro Tem Kevin B. Sullivan, D-West Hartford, seeking an advisory opinion on what happens if Mengacci sought appointment before the law’s required two-year waiting period was up. Concerns over the timing of Mengacci’s application to the Judicial Selection Commission seeking a judicial appointment could not only derail his bid for a seat on the bench, it could jeopardize the outcome of every case he’s heard during his interim judicial tenure. The new concerns over Mengacci’s nomination prompted the legislature to stall all the appointments scheduled for a vote last week to avoid the appearance of partisanship, several legislators said. Mengacci is the former chairman of the state’s Judicial Selection Commission. Connecticut statutes state “no member of the commission who is an attorney-at-law shall be considered for recommendation … for nomination as a judge … for a period of two years following the termination of his tenure on the commission.” “It’s clear to me that, once an applicant files his application, he sets in motion the consideration process of the commission,” said state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee. Mengacci, formerly of the law firm Drubner, Hartley, O’Connor & Mengacci — now Drubner, Hartley & O’Connor — in Waterbury, testified before the Judiciary Committee in February that he served on the commission from November 1997 to August 2001. Gov. John Rowland appointed Mengacci’s successor on Aug. 31, 2001. Under state law, an appointee to the commission serves until a successor is named.On July 9, 2003, the Judicial Selection Commission received Mengacci’s application for a judgeship. That was nearly two months before the end of the two-year waiting period.Even though Rowland didn’t formally nominate Mengacci to the bench until Oct. 20 of last year, lawmakers said the tolling period began with the application. “Once an application is pending, it’s under consideration,” McDonald said. Sullivan said, if Mengacci’s nomination is invalidated, the General Assembly may have to pass legislation validating any actions he took during his interim appointment. “I wouldn’t sit on any cases,” Sullivan said, “until this was cleared up.” “It would appear the process of considering the application did commence prior to the end of the two-year period,” Sullivan said. “If this is true, the nomination is not properly before [the legislature], and is automatically disqualified.” Other legislators called those arguments “a stretch.” Defense lawyer and freshman state Rep. David Labriola, R-Naugatuck, stood by his family friend and testified to his credentials, saying any delay in Mengacci’s confirmation “on some trumped technicality is an outrage and I have every confidence that he will in fact be reappointed for a full term.” Diana Caliendo, administrator for the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said Mengacci’s nomination package showed he was a member and chairman of the Judicial Selection Commission, but didn’t list the date he left, or when he began seeking a judgeship. Sullivan said he mentioned his concerns to Gov. Rowland at a meeting Thursday morning. The governor’s office declined comment. Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, a judicial branch spokeswoman, declined to comment on whether any Connecticut judge has ever been improperly appointed to the bench or, if a judge was improperly appointed, what would happen to the validity of decisions issued by that judge. SELF-DESTRUCTION Mengacci may have brought the troubles on himself. Senate leaders said his demeanor before the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing prompted them to look further into his background. “It’s amazing he couldn’t summon up 10 minutes of humility for appointment as a judge. He just was cocky, dismissive and almost contemptuous of the people sitting here,” said Sullivan. “It was enough to get people thinking, ‘What can we get on this guy?’” The Judiciary Committee endorsed Mengacci’s appointment Feb. 18, with only two dissenting votes. His appointment is on the House of Representatives’ calendar for consideration. McDonald, who voted against Mengacci’s nomination, began researching the lawyer’s background when the acting judge gave the committee vague answers. “My recollection of his testimony was that he was interviewed by the commission in September 2003 and he was nominated by the governor in October 2003, which is extraordinarily fast,” said McDonald. Mengacci’s wife has been a member of Rowland’s office staff for nearly a decade. McDonald said that, during the nomination hearings, he asked Mengacci about his application date, but Mengacci said he couldn’t recall it. “It struck me as odd because it wasn’t that long ago,” McDonald said. “We are in the process of trying to get additional information from the nominee.” Mengacci did not return several messages left for him at his chambers in New Haven, where he presides over motor vehicle and criminal cases. But transcripts of his testimony before the Judiciary Committee in February show that he acknowledged submitting his application before the two-year deadline was over. The transcript shows McDonald asking: “Before that two year period of time had expired, you had already filed your application?” Mengacci replied: “Absolutely. Sure, but there’s no restriction on applying. The restriction is with regard to action by the Commission within two years.” The Judicial Selection Commission’s executive director, Dianne S. Yannetta, was not available for comment. Commission Chairman Thomas A. Cloutier did not return calls from The Law Tribune. Nor did state Ethics Commission Executive Director Alan Plofsky. Mengacci has been on the bench since October, when Rowland appointed him as one of seven interim judges. The seven include James K. Robertson Jr., formerly of Carmody & Torrance in Waterbury, whose own appointment is in danger, and Mark Taylor, who was chief legal counsel for the Senate Democrats.

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