Did judge in Connecticut death penalty decision have conflict?

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Governor Malloy was sworn in to office for his second term back on January 7 by his longtime friend and adviser, Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald.

Thursday, McDonald was among the justices voting yes in the narrow, four-to-three decision to overturn the state’s death penalty statute, a statute he had advised the Governor about when he was his legal counsel.

Before Malloy appointed him to the high bench, McDonald was Malloy’s chief legal counsel at the time the new death penalty statute was advocated by and later signed into law by the Governor. Prior to that, McDonald was a high-ranking state Senator who helped to write a death penalty repeal statute that passed in 2009 and was vetoed by Governor Jodi Rell.

During his confirmation hearings, McDonald said he would recuse himself from any case directly involving the Governor’s office. He has recused himself from at least one case involving a state agency, but yet on the death penalty case, one of the highest profile cases to come before the high court and which he had been involved with as the Governor’s legal counsel, he did not.

Justice McDonald declined comment for this story. Attorney Wes Horton is former chairman of the Professional Ethics Committee of the Connecticut Bar. He says there’s no conflict and no appearance of conflict.

“Nothing you’ve told me suggests that he was involved in any case, either representing the state or representing a victim or representing one of the defendants in the case,” Horton said.

Under the rules of legal ethics, unless McDonald had represented someone in an existing death penalty case, there is no conflict.

When Justice McDonald was questioned during his confirmation hearing, no one asked about the death penalty case even though everyone knew the new death penalty statute would eventually end up before the high court.

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