The nomination of state Supreme Court Justice Peter T. Zarella moved forward Monday despite an accusation that retired Chief Justice William Sullivan improperly delayed the release of a FOI-related decision in order to aid Zarella’s appointment as his replacement.The legislature’s Judiciary Committee submitted a joint favorable report to the General Assembly on Zarella’s appointment Monday, though many of the committee’s Democrats – including both committee co-chairmen – opted to abstain from the vote based on new information that further clouded the process.Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Andrew McDonald received a letter this weekend from Justice David Borden on Sullivan’s conduct. Borden wrote that “Justice Sullivan acknowledged that he had placed the case on hold and that he had done so for the purpose of aiding the appointment of Justice Zarella as Chief Justice by delaying the release of the decision in the case.”

For the case in question, Sullivan wrote the decision for a 4-3 majority that included Zarella, ruling that the Judicial Branch has the right to deny public access to certain documents that track the history of legal cases. The Meriden Superior Court clerk’s office had rejected an attorney’s 2002 requests to view documents stored in the branch’s computer system, because redacting information would be “time consuming and burdensome,” according to the Supreme Court’s majority opinion that upheld a lower court’s decision.Sullivan released the decision March 14 to the parties in the case. But the case was not released electronically to the public until Friday, April 21. On March 15 Sullivan announced his retirement, and on March 17, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced her nomination of Zarella – giving the Judiciary Committee until April 26 to have a public hearing and send a report to the General Assembly.When it was released on Friday, the case drew lawmakers’ scrutiny. McDonald said the decision had considerable First Amendment considerations and caused him “great concern” about the pending appointment of Zarella to Chief Justice. In addition, McDonald said the decision underscored the need for the Judiciary Committee to question Zarella on his views related to the independence of the judiciary and whether certain functions belong with the executive branch.In a letter dated Monday, April 24, Sullivan wrote that while “some members of the panel believe that I should recuse myself from this matter,” based on allegations that he violated judicial canon and the judicial code of conduct, “I do not believe that I have violated any provision of such code,” Sullivan wrote. “I would also state that the actions alleged did not affect one word of the decision rendered in this matter.”Click here to read about the Supreme Court decision.  But the new evidence complicated things for lawmakers Monday. McDonald said he would abstain from a vote in favor or opposing Zarella’s appointment until “we’ve had an opportunity to examine this in much greater detail.“Republicans lawmakers like state Rep. Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said it came as a surprise to “all of us that Sullivan was retiring,” but what shouldn’t have been a surprise was the time it needed to appoint Zarella. Cafero said there was no need to delay a public hearing on Zarella, who had appeared before the committee four times over the last five years. “Every time he appeared before the committee, it approved his appointment to the bench unanimously,” Cafero said.Republican Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, said he voted against sending a favorable report to the General Assembly on Monday because the committee has never sent a judicial nominee before the legislature without a public hearing. He said it sets a “horrible precedent.“Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said Monday: “It’s heartbreaking to see the letters and public bickering between the Justices of the Supreme Court.” He said there has been an element of “both politics and partisanship that has entered into the Judicial Branch,” and “unfortunately the appointment of Justice Zarella has become a work in progress.”