Lamont to withdraw judicial nominee over license issue
Gov. Ned Lamont is withdrawing the nomination of Alina Marquez Reynolds as a judge of the Superior Court after questions at her confirmation hearing Monday about whether she had technically practiced law without a license.
Reynolds, 56, is a member of the New York bar admitted to practice in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut, where she prosecuted cases as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1995 to 2019.
At issue is whether she was tardy in obtaining a necessary credential after leaving the U.S. attorney’s office to become the general counsel of Grace Farms Foundation in New Canaan in 2019.
As general counsel, she did not appear in any Connecticut court, but state law requires that she be admitted to the state bar either as a fully licensed attorney or with a limited license allowing her to act as a general counsel.
Reynolds was not admitted to the bar as a general counsel until 2021 and as a fully licensed lawyer able to practice law in a Connecticut court until an expedited admission last week.
It was unclear how the Judicial Selection Commission placed her on the list of lawyers qualified for the trial bench in January without being fully admitted to the bar — a requirement to serve as a judge.
The governor can make nominations only from lists of those deemed qualified by the commission for nomination to the Superior Court, Appellate Court or Supreme Court.
To be admitted to practice in Connecticut, lawyers must either pass the bar exam or, in the case of lawyers in good standing in another state, be “waived in” after a background check.
Given her New York license and long practice in federal courts in Connecticut, Reynolds presumably would have had little trouble being accepted to practice in Connecticut as a general counsel or a fully admitted lawyer.
Rep. Craig Fishbein of Wallingford, the ranking House Republican on Judiciary, immediately challenged Reynolds about her licensing history as soon as she finished her opening statement.
“So in October of 2019, you obtained employment as general counsel for a Connecticut firm, but you were not licensed to do so. Is that what I’m hearing?” Fishbein asked.
“That is correct, but I was not appearing in court,” she replied.
But Fishbein said state law required licensure for a lawyer to even portray herself as a general counsel.
“That’s where I’m having a little difficulty,” said Fishbein, who noted the law allowed a grace period after beginning employment to complete the necessary paperwork. “But it’s not until like two years later that a license is obtained to do this job in the state. Am I getting something wrong there?”
She called it “an inadvertent oversight on my part.”
Reynolds said she was hired for two jobs at the foundation, one as general counsel and the other advising the foundation’s Justice Initiative in preventing gender-based violence.
“I wore two hats. I was part of the Justice Initiative and did a lot of training, outreach and policy work, advocacy work,” she said. “As the general counsel, really my function was to manage outside counsel. It was much more of an administrative function.”
The Democratic co-chairs of the committee, Rep. Steve Stafstrom of Bridgeport and Sen. Gary Winfield of New Haven, declined to call a vote on Reynolds’s confirmation, a blow to her chances in the final full week of the session.
By Monday night, her time as a nominee effectively was over.
The governor’s office issued a statement to CT Mirror noting that Reynolds had met two prerequisites for the bench: An approval by the Judicial Selection Commission and her admission to the bar.
“That said, the governor’s office respects and understands the concerns raised by the committee today and will formally withdraw her nomination,” the office said.
Reynolds was one of 11 lawyers nominated as judges of the Superior Court on April 13, the same day the governor also nominated Joan K. Alexander to the Supreme Court and Hope C. Seeley to the Appellate Court.
The committee voted Monday to recommend the full General Assembly confirm Alexander, Seeley and the other 10 nominees to eight-year terms.
Stafstrom, reached before the governor’s office moved to withdraw the nomination, called the episode regrettable.
“I think it’s unfortunate in that she was seen as otherwise well-qualified,” he said.
Reynolds is her married name. She was born Alina Pilar Marquez in Colombia, the child of parents who fled from Cuba.
“We came to the United States because my parents, especially my dad, who only made it as far as the eighth grade in school, knew that it would be here in the United States where we would have the best opportunity to build a new life,” she told the committee in her opening statement.
Reynolds was the first in her family to attend college. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and the Boston College Law School. She began her legal career as an assistant district attorney in New York.