(Updated) A last minute deal on Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s nine Judicial nominees was brokered when Rell agreed to nominate a minority judge to the bench in the coming months.
The lack of diversity amongst the nominees brought all legislative business to a halt Monday when the black and Puerto Rican caucus aired its concerns.
After some passionate remarks about diversity, the black and Puerto Rican caucus allowed Rell’s nine all-white judicial nominees to make it through the Judiciary Committee process Tuesday. However, not all of the nominations were unanimous. At least 10 lawmakers voted against West Hartford Republican Laura Flynn Baldini. Many lawmakers raised concerns about the 39-year-old’s 12 years of legal experience, but others defended her and said they were confident she was qualified and would grow into the position.
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said after a Tuesday morning meeting with members of the black and Puerto Rican caucus, Rell agreed to find a minority candidate to fill the 10th spot, which was vacated when Brian Leslie withdrew his nomination after a column critical of his handling of a case was published by the Hartford Courant.
The governor “will work to ensure the state’s courts reflect the people they serve, including historically under-represented minorities,” Rell spokesman Rich Harris said in a release. “For that reason, the Governor is committed to appointing a qualified, approved minority candidate to the bench in the coming months, following a thorough and rigorous recruiting and vetting process.”
Walker said it’s still unclear how many minority candidates may be eligible for the nomination. She said she’s heard everything from two to seven individuals may be qualified for the nomination.
About four percent of the candidates on the list are minorities, Harris said in his statement.
Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, and Rep. Ken Green, D-Hartford, expressed concerns about the Judicial Selection Commission process. Green said it’s still unclear what criteria the commission uses in its selection of candidates and he’s worried minority candidates are getting thrown out.
“Something is wrong with the system,” Hewett said.
Sen. Andrew McDonald, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he thinks that after the discussion about diversity all the nominees, in addition to sitting judges, will be sensitive to the issues raised during the debate.
And he admitted Tuesday’s vote was just one small step forward in the debate over the 2011 budget deficit.
In order to get the judicial nominations the Judicial Branch and Rell worked on an agreement that would give the Judicial Branch enough money to keep courts and law libraries open. However, Sen. President Donald Williams said last week that he doesn’t believe the judges and the Judicial department budget should be approved separately from the entire 2011 budget.
“What I want to see is an agreement as to the entire budget not just the Judicial Branch,” Williams has said.
Derek Slap, Williams’ spokesman, said Tuesday that Williams still holds that position, but doesn’t believe it should hinder the passage of other legislation.
“We need to do the budget, but not in a piecemeal fashion,” Slap said.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said the approval of the judicial nominees gets “rid of the smokescreen,” that has been buffering Williams, but it doesn’t resolve the underlying issue.
If Williams’ philosophy on the budget is applied, then it should be applied to every bill with a fiscal note, Cafero said. To that end Cafero said his caucus will question every bill that has a fiscal note.
He said the strategy isn’t a filibuster in a classical sense. However, he promised the questions on each bill will be numerous.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney said the judicial nominations have become a “distraction” during the last full week of the legislative session. He said the focus should be on balancing the 2011 budget.