(Updated) An estimated 87 Democratic lawmakers in the House have signed this letter to House Speaker Chris Donovan asking him not to call for a vote on the nine lawyers Gov. M. Jodi Rell nominated to the Superior Court bench.
Rep. Michael Lawlor, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said this is not an attempt to prevent Rell from nominating judges, but it’s meant to encourage her to resolve the Judicial Branch’s budget crisis. He said it’s his understanding that the two sides aren’t even talking.
Communication between the two branches of government broke down last year when Rell vetoed a bill that would have allowed the Judicial Branch to forgo a $7.8 million budget cut. That $7.8 million cut has forced the branch to start closing courthouses, law libraries, and other programs.
“We think that it is in the best interest of the General Assembly, the judicial Branch, and the nominees themselves for these nominations to be considered after a resolution of the Judicial Branch budget crisis,” the letter to Donovan reads.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis has estimated the annual cost of 10 new judges to be $2.5 million. The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to question the nominees this Friday.
“Rather than put them through this, Rell should withdraw their nominations,” Lawlor said. Click here to read the letter he wrote the governor in December on the issue.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, accused Lawlor of playing politics over the issue. He said he doesn’t doubt that for the Judicial Branch that it’s a budgetary issue. However, Cafero believes that the legislature’s majority wants to wait until after the election of a Democratic governor to make the nominations.
Lawlor said Cafero’s statement is absolutely not true. He said the Judicial Branch told him they don’t need the judges and can’t afford them. The nine nominees left are all qualified for judgeships, Lawlor said, adding that he would approve each and every one of them if the Judicial Branch needed them. Earlier this week Brian Leslie a prosecutor from Wallingford withdrew his name from consideration after a column in the Hartford Courant Sunday criticized his handling of a case. That brought the number of nominees down from 10 to nine.
Rep. Bill Hamzy, R-Terryville, said if they don’t need the judges then the Democratic legislature should reduce the number of judges the Judicial Branch needs to operate.
Donovan said he was aware of the letter and was continuing conversations with the governor. He wouldn’t say definitively if he would bring the issue up for a vote.
If Rell withdraws the nominations, she can still nominate the nine for interim appointments after the session ends, Lawlor said. Hopefully the budget dispute between the executive and judicial branch will be resolved by then. If Rell refuses to withdraw the nominations, it’s expected all of them will fail to receive the legislature’s approval, at which point each of the nominees would have to go back through the Judicial Review Commission process.
Rell’s office refused to comment on the issue. The letter was circulated during Tuesday’s House session.