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CT Supreme Court nominee Nora Dannehy advances through committee

Former U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy appears before the Judiciary Committee as her nomination to the state Supreme Court is assessed.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Former U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy appears before the Judiciary Committee as her nomination to the state Supreme Court is assessed.

A legislative committee in Hartford voted overwhelmingly to advance the nomination of Gov. Ned Lamont’s latest pick for the state’s top court.

After nearly three hours of questioning before the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, Nora Dannehy, a former federal prosecutor, corporate attorney and general counsel in Lamont’s office, received a favorable report on a 30-4 vote, sending her nomination to a vote of the full legislature.

Lawmakers from both parties praised Dannehy’s record, including the prosecutions of politicians including former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland and former State Treasurer Paul Silvester.

“I think you’re going to be an outstanding justice of the Supreme Court for the people of the state of Connecticut,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, a ranking member on the committee. “I have great confidence in you and your moral caliber and legal skill set.”

“I am confident you are going to be our next Supreme Court judge, and I am confident that your analysis and academic rigor will be an asset to this state,” said Rep. Melissa Osborne, D-Simsbury.

Dannehy was asked by multiple committee members to discuss the events leading to her resignation from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2020, when she was working under Special Counsel John Durham on a probe into the FBI’s handling of investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“My conscience would not allow me to remain,” Dannehy testified. “I had been taught and spent my entire career at the Department of Justice conducting any investigation in an objective and apolitical manner. In the spring and summer of 2020, I had growing concerns that this Russia investigation was not being conducted in that way.”

Dannehy said she believed then-Attorney General William Barr “violated DOJ guidelines” in his handling of the investigation, concerns she raised with Durham and Barr to no effect.

“I would be naive to think I had any influence over the attorney general of the United States,” Dannehy said, later expounding: “I didn’t mean I didn’t raise my concerns, and I didn’t mean there wasn’t shouting at certain times – I just didn’t change it. That’s why I resigned.”

While Durham’s report did identify significant problems with the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe, including major errors and omissions in wiretap applications targeting a former Trump campaign official, many of the findings had already been revealed by the Justice Department inspector general. And though former President Donald Trump had looked to the report to malign the FBI as prejudiced against him, Durham concluded that the FBI’s mistakes were mostly a result of “confirmation bias” rather than partisanship or outright political bias.

The investigation concluded last May with underwhelming results: A single guilty plea from a little-known FBI lawyer, resulting in probation, and two acquittals at trial by juries.

During the public testimony portion of the hearing, advocates raised concerns about Dannehy’s prosecutorial background.

“Her experience has been representing the already powerful, rather than having a public interest in representing your everyday type of people of the state,” testified Christina Quaranta, executive director of the Connecticut Justice Alliance.

Former U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy descends an escalator in the Legislative Office Building with her husband Len Boyle after appearing before the Judiciary Committee as her nomination to the state Supreme Court is assessed.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Former U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy descends an escalator in the Legislative Office Building with her husband Len Boyle after appearing before the Judiciary Committee as her nomination to the state Supreme Court is assessed.

“The only way we can turn Black and brown lawyers into Black and brown judges is to begin to appoint them, especially when we have an overrepresentation of prosecutors,” said Ivelisse Correa of Black Lives Matter 860. “We have no Black women on the Supreme Court in Connecticut nor brown representation. We should take a look towards defense attorneys and civil rights attorneys for a varied perspective.”

Committee co-chair Gary Winfield, a Democratic state representative from New Haven, said the arguments against Dannehy’s appointment were taken to heart.

“The issue of what Nora Dannehy’s background is has come into play – whether or not she represents the type of background history, diversity of ethnicity, race, gender, all of those things have come into play during the conversation,” Winfield said. “Those comments have been heard and are being taken seriously.”

Dannehy is Lamont’s second nominee to the state’s highest court this year. In May, Sandra Slack Glover, another federal prosecutor with no judicial experience, withdrew her name from consideration after state lawmakers raised questions about a letter she signed in 2017 supporting Amy Coney Barrett for a federal appeals court position before she joined the U.S. Supreme Court.

Glover tried to assure Connecticut lawmakers that she would not have signed the 2017 letter if she knew Barrett would later vote to overturn Roe v. Wade abortion protections.

With the recommendation from the committee, Dannehy’s nomination next goes for a vote of the full General Assembly. A spokesperson for the House Democratic caucus said that vote is set to be held Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.
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