In a terse letter to the Judicary Committee on Tuesday, Gov. M. Jodi Rell criticized the committee’s co-chairmen for canceling a public hearing on her nomination of Justice Peter Zarella to lead the State Supreme Court. Rell nominated Zarella on March 17, when Chief Justice William Sullivan announced his retirement.In a letter addressed to Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, and Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, Rell wrote that she was “disappointed” and “perplexed” by their unwillingness to devote time to the nomination. McDonald said that’s not the case, and that the committee wants to devote as much time to the process as is necessary to appoint someone to the “very important position.” He also said there is no political motivation to delay a decision until after the November election, adding that this is simply an unprecedented short session. The legislative session is shorter than usual because of the new election schedule, which was pushed up two months this year.
McDonald estimated Zarella’s nomination will take six to eight hours of debate, and time is quickly running out. Just yesterday, Rell criticized the legislature again for its inability to get legislation passed – in particular, legislation related to the agenda she outlined in her State-of-the-State speech in February. McDonald said that at the moment, it’s a “real challenge finding time for that public hearing,” but “we’re going to take the time.“He estimated the public hearing could begin as early as next Wednesday, since the state must give five days notice of a public hearing.“We will not be rushed trying to discharge this,” McDonald said. He said Rell chose, “for strategic reasons,” not to disclose Sullivan’s retirement until March 17. In her letter, Rell said the committee has had 12 days to go over the thousands of pages of documents related to Zarella’s background. According to McDonald, however, that’s not exactly true. He said that the committee only yesterday received two of the four boxes of requested documents related to its examination Zarella’s tenure on the bench.He said the staff combed through the information over the holiday weekend. But, McDonald said, Zarella couldn’t turn over all the requested information because some of it was not in his possession.So there are still gaps to be filled, McDonald said, adding that after 10 years as lieutenant governor, “I would think that the governor would understand how important it is to ask questions of judicial nominees.“McDonald said that if the Judiciary Committee is unable to complete its review, the nomination could be taken up on the floor of either chamber before the end of session May 4, without the committee’s report. In the event that the nomination isn’t acted upon by the General Assembly, the committee can reconvene after the session ends and appoint Zarella to the position before the end of May. In that case, Zarella would become the Supreme Court’s interim chief justice until the General Assembly returns to make a full appointment – either next year or possibly in a special session.