Nora Dannehy
Nora Dannehy (Gary Lewis)

Nora Dannehy is known for her work ethic and intellect. And her modesty.

Yes, in her former role as Connecticut’s U.S. attorney, she occasionally found herself on courthouse steps addressing the media, especially following corruption prosecutions that sent some of the state’s most powerful politicians to prison.

Nevertheless, she makes it clear she doesn’t particularly enjoy being the center of attention.

“I don’t like to talk about myself,” she said.

Fortunately, both former colleagues and onetime legal adversaries are happy to chime in, complimenting Dannehy on her focus and her ability to get to the heart of a legal problem and solve it.

“There are not enough good things that one could say about Nora Dannehy as a lawyer and as a person,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham said. “Not ever self-promoting, Nora is indeed a breath of fresh air … a truly humble, highly accomplished lawyer who has dedicated herself to the honest and honorable practice of law and the faithful pursuit of the public’s welfare.”

Dannehy left public service after more than 20 years combined at the U.S. attorney’s office and the Office of Attorney General. She is now meeting new challenges as a global compliance and investigations attorney with United Technologies Corp.

For her accomplishments in public-sector positions, Dannehy was chosen by the Law Tribune’s Editorial Board to receive the Service to the Profession Award at Honors Night ceremonies on June 19.

When she was a federal prosecutor over a decade ago, Dannehy dug into public corruption cases and secured many high-profile convictions, including a guilty plea from former Gov. John Rowland. The once-popular, three-term governor spent 10 months in prison for steering state contracts and accepting bribes. Dannehy also worked to send former State Treasurer Paul Silvester and Rowland’s former co-chief of staff, Peter Ellef, to prison for corruption.

More recently, Dannehy helped shape the office of Attorney General George Jepsen following his election by serving as his top assistant from 2010 to 2013. For the past six months, she has been settling in at her new position at UTC, conducting investigations and ensuring that the corporation’s business units are complying with state and federal laws.

“It was an interesting opportunity and its proving to be both interesting and challenging,” Dannehy said.

In all of her roles, Dannehy earned the respect of people she’s worked with. “No one will outwork her. No one is going to be smarter than her,” Mike Clark, a retired FBI agent who investigated Rowland during Dannehy’s prosecution of him, said of her at the time. “No one will ever conduct the investigation with as much integrity than her.”

Asked about Dannehy’s objectivity, her supporters note that she vigorously prosecuted Rowland, even though he had nominated her brother, Michael, to the Superior Court in 2000. They also point out that she was appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice to handle the sensitive task of investigating the Bush administration’s controversial firing of nine U.S. attorneys.

Willie Dow III, who represented Rowland during the corruption investigation, has called Dannehy “the soul of integrity.”

“She’s intelligent, she is competent and extremely professional,” Dow said. “She is highly regarded for her thoroughness and objectivity.”

Dannehy came from a good legal pedigree. Her father, Joseph, was a longtime state judge who became a Connecticut Supreme Court justice in the mid-1980s.

Nora Dannehy graduated from Harvard Law School in 1986, and her first legal job was working as a clerk for Senior U.S. District Judge Emmet Clarie. Two years lawyer, she took a position as an associate with Day Pitney, where she remained for about three years in the commercial litigation practice. “You learn something from every job,” she said. “I learned at that job that the investigations are extremely important in any case.”

That interest in solving problems, and piecing together evidence from statements and law enforcement reports, led her to the U.S. attorney’s office, where she would work as a prosecutor for nearly 20 years. When then-U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Connor left to take a position at UTC, where he is now vice president of corporate compliance, Dannehy took over leadership of the office and held the post until May 2010.

O’Connor described her as bright, dedicated, honest and tenacious. He thought so much of Dannehy “and her character” that he asked her late last year to join him at UTC.

“She’s very focused on the law and the facts of any case she works on,” O’Connor said. “When they were at the U.S. attorney’s office, she didn’t just rely on the investigators and the FBI, she did her own investigating. That’s what sets Nora apart. And she’s very humble.”

James Glasser, a partner at Wiggin and Dana in New Haven who worked with Dannehy when he was chief of the criminal division at the U.S. attorney’s office, told The Associated Press that she set an example for hard work. “We used to have to chase her out of the office,” he said.

At the time, Glasser said Dannehy’s colleagues were often amused by the many boxes in her office, filled with neat notes about the targets of criminal investigations. “It’s a reflection of how organized her mind is,” Glasser said. “She’s like the consummate chess player, that is, she’s always thinking of five moves down the board.”

Those were the qualities that Jepsen considered when he hired Dannehy after he was elected attorney general. As the deputy attorney general, Dannehy ran the day-to-day operations of the office and worked with Jepsen to oversee 54,000 cases a year.

“The reason I brought Nora in was the fact that she is very hard-working, and she is known as a team player,” Jepsen said.

Following his election, Jepsen was working to change the culture of the office, and picked Dannehy because she was known as “a person of character.”

“She’s not just an excellent lawyer, she was someone with extensive management experience as well,” he recalled. “She’s a good listener, and she never raises her voice.

Jepsen said a member of his staff expressed some concern that Dannehy’s “background was in criminal law, and our office deals with civil law enforcement.”

“Any doubts about her abilities were dissipated very quickly,” he said.

Though well-regarded in the legal profession, those who know Dannehy acknowledge that her distaste for showing favoritism didn’t always win her friends in high places. Kevin Rennie, a lawyer from South Windsor and a former Republican state lawmaker, called Dannehy “an accomplished public servant with an enduring sense of rectitude that she employed for our benefit.”

She “could make the powerful uneasy,” Rennie said, “which may be why politicians did not champion her to become the U.S. attorney or a judge.”

Though enjoying her role in corporate law, Dannehy said she looks back on her public-service years fondly.

“I really enjoyed public service,” she said. “There may come a time when I have an opportunity to publicly serve again, but right now this is a new challenge I’m very happy with.”•