NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) – A state judge rejected an arrest warrant Friday for imprisoned former Gov. John G. Rowland, ending a state ethics investigation and sparing the once-popular governor a new round of legal battles.

According to Chief State’s Attorney Christopher Morano, the judge did not believe Rowland broke any law when he signed on as a $5,000-a-month consultant for a construction company that was in a contract dispute with the University of Connecticut.

Rowland, who is serving a yearlong federal prison sentence for corruption, has been under state scrutiny for months as prosecutors investigated whether he violated the “revolving door” statute, which prohibits officials from lobbying their former agencies. The law does not specify whether UConn should be considered part of the Rowland’s former agency.

“The family is breathing a sigh of relief,” said John Droney, one of Rowland’s attorneys. “Obviously they were devastated by the threat of another prosecution.”

Rowland took the consulting post with Klewin Building Co. after resigning in July 2004 amid allegations he accepted gifts from state contractors, employees and others. He pleaded guilty in December to a federal corruption charge, admitting that he traded his office for more than $100,000 in repairs to his cottage, private flights to Las Vegas and Vermont vacations.

Morano submitted an arrest warrant to a state judge this week. He said the judge, identified by defense lawyers as Superior Court Judge Edward J. Mullarkey, declined to sign it Friday. The case is now closed, Morano said.

“We reviewed the complaint,” Morano said. “We felt it was sufficient to pass on to the judge. He played his role in the process and a decision was made.”

Nobody answered the phone in the judge’s lobby at the courthouse Friday.

Federal prosecutors, who reviewed the consulting deal during their own investigation, also stopped short of calling it a crime.

“It’s just unclear,” said R. Bartley Halloran, another of Rowland’s attorneys, “You’ve got to praise the judge for having the courage to stand up. This is how the system is supposed to work.”

An arrest would have marked the first time the “revolving door” statute had been used in a criminal charge, Morano said. The law carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

State Rep. Christopher Caruso, the Democratic co-chairman of the legislative committee that investigated the Klewin deal, said he was disappointed by the judge’s decision and believes lawmakers should clarify and strengthen the statute.

“Apparently, it seems that there’s wiggle room on the interpretation of the law,” Caruso said.

Rowland, who is scheduled to be released from federal prison in February, could still face state corruption charges, though Morano has agreed to shelve that investigation until the Justice Department has finished its case.

Rowland’s former chief of staff, Peter Ellef, and a state contractor, William Tomasso, are awaiting their racketeering trial.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal also is investigating Rowland and has filed state civil lawsuits against members of his administration. Droney said he hoped Friday’s decision would persuade Blumenthal not to file suit against Rowland.

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