Gov. M. Jodi Rell may be forced to re-nominate state Supreme Court Justice Peter T. Zarella at a later date, now that Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, says he won’t take up Zarella’s nomination before the session ends on May 4.“This in no way should be a rushed process,” Looney said of the legislature’s task of verifying Zarella’s qualifications to replace retired Chief Justice William Sullivan.Looney’s comments came Monday afternoon following the Judiciary Committee’s endorsement of Zarella and after the release of Senior Associate Justice David Borden’s letter accusing Sullivan of improperly delaying the release of an FOI-related decision in order to aid Zarella’s appointment as his replacement.The allegations of strife amongst justices on the high court complicated things for lawmakers who were asked today to submit a report on Zarella to the General Assembly.
The Judiciary Committee submitted a favorable report on Zarella, though many of the committee’s Democrats – including both committee co-chairmen – opted to abstain from the vote based on new information that clouded the process.“Outgoing Chief Justice William Sullivan appears to have been playing the worst kind of judicial politics by deliberately withholding a key judicial decision which raised questions about Justice Zarella’s commitment to transparency in the Judicial Department,” Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said.Rell still held legislators accountable for the delay, even after the release of information Monday afternoon.“The Judiciary Committee and the full General Assembly should fully review not only the issues that came to light today, but also Justice Zarella’s background, experience, and capabilities,” Rell said in a statement released Monday. “That is why, for the past several weeks, I have been urging a full public hearing on Justice Zarella’s nomination and why I reiterate that request today.” The Judiciary Committee’s public hearing to appoint Zarella April 18 was cancelled when the General Assembly convened. Under the legislature’s rules a committee is unable to hold public hearing while the General Assembly is in session. The Judiciary Committee has since been unable to reschedule the hearing because of the extremely short session and the Easter and Passover holidays, the Democratic committee co-chairmen have said. Still, Rell persisted that Zarella should be appointed before the end of the legislative session, making some at the Capitol wonder if she was aware of Sullivan’s conduct, or if she was mislead by Sullivan – who may have urged her to push the nomination through.The decision Sullivan is accused of withholding from the public was released March 14 to the parties in the case. For the case in question, Sullivan wrote the opinion 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.A day later on March 15, Sullivan announced his retirement from the bench and on March 17, 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. But the Supreme Court decision in question was not released to the public until Friday, April 21.Williams said Rell “may not have known about what was happening and whether people were using her improperly in this process.” He said it makes a great deal of sense to wait and see what happens. McDonald said putting a hold on a case is not unprecedented, but “clearly this type of situation is unprecedented.” He said the timing in this case is important because the hold was put on the case March 14, and Rell said she didn’t know about Sullivan’s resignation until March 15. Borden wrote Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Andrew McDonald this weekend about Sullivan’s conduct. “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,” Borden wrote.McDonald said Monday that it is likely the justices were handling the situation through the Judicial Review Board because in his response to the Judiciary Committee co-chairman dated Monday, April 24, Sullivan specifically denied violations of judicial canon and violations of the Judicial Code of Ethics. Sullivan’s response said 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 further 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.Now, any party, including the Justices involved in the case, can ask for the court to rehear the case without Sullivan, or the court can vacate the decision and reconsider it on it’s own, since the final decision is not due out until May 22, McDonald said.