Colm Connolly – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware

Ten years ago, Colm Connolly’s nomination for a federal judgeship failed due to the opposition of a home state senator.  Now, he is getting a second opportunity, one that is much more likely to be successful.

Background

A native Delawarean, Colm Felix Connolly was born in Wilmington on October 18, 1964.  Connolly attended the University of Notre Dame, getting his B.A. in 1986.[1]  After graduating, Connolly moved to London to get a Masters in Science from the London School of Economics.  After the program, Connolly joined the Delaware Department of the Treasury as Special Assistant to the Secretary.[2]

In 1988, Connolly joined the Duke University School of Law, getting a J.D. in 1991.[3]  After graduating, Connolly clerked for Delaware native Judge Walter Stapleton on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.[4]

After his clerkship, Connolly joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, working as a federal prosecutor under U.S. Attorney Gregory Sleet.[5]  After seven years there, Connolly left to join Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell LLP.[6]

In 2001, Connolly was selected by newly elected President George W. Bush to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware.[7]  Connolly served as U.S. Attorney throughout the Bush Administration, resigning upon the election of President Obama to join Morgan Lewis & Brockius LLP as a partner.[8]  Connolly serves as a partner there currently.

In late 2006, U.S. District Judge Kent Jordan was elevated to the Third Circuit, and Connolly was considered the prime candidate to replace him.[9]  In March 2007, U.S. Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) recommended Connolly to fill the vacancy left by Jordan.[10]  On February 26, 2008, Bush formally nominated Connolly for the seat.[11]  However, Connolly did not have the support of then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden, who used his blue slip to block the nomination.[12]  As such, Connolly’s nomination never received a hearing or a vote.

History of the Seat

Connolly has been nominated for a vacancy opened by Judge Sue Lewis Robinson’s move to senior status on February 3, 2017.  Connolly’s nomination was recommended and made in tandem with that of Maryellen Noreika, a Democrat, who was nominated to fill a second vacancy on the court.

In November 2016, after the election of Donald Trump, Connolly reached out to U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) to express his interest in the seat opening up by Robinson’s retirement.[13]  In mid-2017, Connolly interviewed with the selection committee set up by Carper and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).[14]  Connolly also interviewed with a parallel process led by Delaware Republican Party Chairman Mike Harrington Sr.[15]  Ultimately, Connolly was the only candidate recommended by both processes.[16]  He was formally nominated on December 20, 2017.

Legal Experience

Connolly’s twenty-five years in legal practice can be broken down into two parts: fifteen years as a federal prosecutor; and ten in private practice.

U.S. Attorney’s Office

In 1992, Connolly joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, primarily handling criminal cases, including drug and firearm crimes, money laundering, and civil rights violations.[17]  In 1997, Connolly was the lead attorney in the most significant case of his career, the prosecution of prominent Delaware attorney Thomas Capano for the murder of his mistress Anne Marie Fahey.[18]  As the head of the prosecution, Connolly developed the investigation plan and worked with witnesses to build the case against Capano.[19]  Connolly also led the examination of witnesses, including Capano, prompting an outburst with Capano calling Connolly a “heartless, gutless, soulless disgrace for a human being.”[20]  Ultimately, Connolly was able to secure a guilty verdict and the death penalty for Capano,[21] although the penalty was ultimately overturned by the Delaware Supreme Court.

In 2001, the 36-year-old Connolly was appointed to be U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware.  In his role as U.S. Attorney, Connolly dramatically increased the rate of prosecutions in the office.[22]  Among his prosecutions, Connolly helped secure the largest forfeiture in Delaware history.[23]  Connolly’s prosecutorial zeal also attracted some criticism.  After Connolly indicted the Democratic leadership in New Castle County, the defendants complained that his conduct was motivated by political considerations.[24]

In 2007, Connolly’s name was found on a Justice Department list designating U.S. Attorneys to be removed or fired.[25]  The concerns regarding Connolly were never made clear and Connolly served out his term as U.S. Attorney until the end of the Bush Presidency.[26]

Private Practice

Connolly has had two stints in private practice.  First, Connolly worked as a partner with Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell, working primarily in civil litigation.[27]  Second, after leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2009, Connolly has worked as a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP.[28]  In this capacity, Connolly has handled primarily commercial litigation, but has also handled a few criminal defense matters.  Among his more prominent clients, Connolly represented Kathy Klyce, the widow of Jack Wheeler, a prominent defense consultant who was found dead in a landfill in 2010.[29]

Political Activity

Connolly has been active with the Delaware Republican Party, serving in volunteer capacities on the campaigns of former-U.S. Sen. Bill Roth (R-DE), former-U.S. Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), and as the co-chair of Delaware Lawyers for Bush.[30]  Additionally, Connolly has donated to the Republican Party of Delaware, U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks (R-PA), former U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) and the 2012 campaign of Mitt Romney.[31]

Overall Assessment

While Connolly may have faced disappointment the first time he was tapped for the federal bench, all signs point to a smooth confirmation this time around.

First of all, unlike last time, Connolly has the support of his home state senators, with Carper and Coons expressing their support for the nomination.[32]  Second, Connolly is also appearing before a Republican controlled senate (with no judicial filibuster).  As such, unified Republican support (and the support of his home-state Democrats) should be enough to confirm him.

On a more substantive level, Connolly is well-qualified for a federal judgeship.  His years as a federal prosecutor should leave him well-equipped to handle criminal trials and sentencing as a judge.  Additionally, his time in private practice has given him the requisite civil experience as well.

As such, barring any Petersen-like slip-ups in his hearing, Connolly is a strong bet for a bipartisan confirmation.  With the overburdened federal court in Delaware already half-empty, his future colleagues will only be too pleased to get some relief.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Colm Connolly: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] See id. at 1.

[4] See id. at 2.

[5] Id. 

[6] See id. at 2.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] David M. Drucker, Down on the Farm, Roll Call, May 8, 2007.

[10] Editorial, Judicial Appointments; Your Move, Senators, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 12, 2008.

[11] See id.

[12] See id.

[13] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Colm Connolly: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 64.

[14] Id.

[15] See Tom McParland, Sources: Trump to Tap Connolly, Noreika for Delaware District Court, Delaware Law Weekly, Sept. 22, 2017, https://www.law.com/delawarelawweekly/sites/delawarelawweekly/2017/09/22/sources-trump-to-tap-connolly-noreika-for-delaware-district-court/.  

[16] See id.

[17] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Colm Connolly: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 50.

[18] Id.

[19] George Anastasia and Bill Ordine, Federal Pressure Got Too Much for the Capanos/Were the Government’s Tactics Too Much? They are Routine – and Legal – Lawyers Say, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 23, 1997.

[20] Nation in Brief, Governor Prods Ramsey Inquiry, Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Jan. 5, 1999.

[21] George Anastasia, Capano Gets Death in Killing of Fahey/A Judge Scheduled the Execution for June 28. Appeals are Likely to Push the Date Back, Philadelphia Inquirer, Mar. 17, 1999.

[22] Editorial, Judicial Appointments; Your Move, Senators, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 12, 2008.

[23] Keith J. Kelly, Cond Gets Conned – Back-Office Manager Allegedly Embezzled $5.9M, N.Y. Post, Jan. 7, 2005.

[24] Local News, Federal Panel Indicts Top New Castle County Officials, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 27, 2004.

[25] David Johnson & Neil A. Lewis, Senate Democrats Plan A Resolution of Gonzales, N.Y. Times, May 18, 2007.

[26] Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein, No-Confidence Vote Sought on Gonzales, Wash. Post, May 18, 2007.

[27] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Colm Connolly: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 50-51.

[28] Id. at 51.

[29] Steve Volk, Jack Wheeler Helped Build the Vietnam Wall and Worked for the White House & the Pentagon. How did he end up Dead in a Landfill?, Wash. Post, May 28, 2017.

[30] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Colm Connolly: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 48.

[31] Center for Responsive Politics, Open Secrets, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=colm+connolly&order=desc&sort=D (last visited Jan. 30, 2018).

[32] Press Release, Office of Sen. Christopher Coons, Carper, Coons’ Judicial Candidates Nominated for U.S. District Court Bench, Dec. 29, 2017 (on file at http://www.coons.senate.gov).