Photo courtesy of the Judicial Branch Web site

Supreme Court Justice Peter T. Zarella testified Friday that he was never interviewed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell or her staff before he was nominated to head the third branch of government back on March 17, 2006.

Zarella told the legislature’s Judiciary Committee that Rell called and asked him if he’d like to be nominated. Zarella then became the nominee the same day former Chief Justice William Sullivan announced his retirement and put a hold on a case he felt would become a “hot button” issue for Zarella in the nomination process. Zarella said Friday he was “mildly disappointed” when he withdrew his nomination because of a series of events that “were out of my control.”

Judiciary Committee co-chairman, Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, said the appointment of a Chief Supreme Court Justice “is the most important nomination a governor could ever make.” The fact Rell or her staff never interviewed Zarella “amazes me,” he said.

Did Rell do her due diligence in making the nomination? Did Sullivan violate the judicial code of conduct? Keep reading to find out.

“There was no formal interview of Justice Zarella because Governor Rell already knew him and knew of his years of state service,” Rell’s spokesman Adam Liegeot said Friday.  Based on his previous appointments to Appellate and Supreme Court and chairmanship of the Criminal Justice Commission, “The Governor already knew that Justice Zarella possessed an ability to issue opinions supported by the facts that were informed with fairness.”

But adjudication is only one part of the job. Ultimately a Chief Justice is responsible for the third branch of government with close to 4,000 employees.

Judiciary Committee co-chairman Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, said he thinks Rell has “turned a page in how she vetted the candidates this time around.” He said it’s his understanding Rell interviewed all of the candidates qualified for the position before deciding on Justice Chase T Rogers.

Meanwhile, when asked if he thought Sullivan violated the judicial cannon by withholding the case Zarella dodged the question. He said Sullivan’s testimony before the Judicial Review Council, “is what it is,” and he didn’t want to characterize it. Sen. Ed Meyers, D-Guilford, asked if he felt Sullivan acted unethically in his attempt to help Zarella succeed him. Zarella said Meyers can read the cannons of judicial conduct “how you want to read it.”