HARTFORD, CT — The Judiciary Committee is expected to hear hours of testimony Monday on a Supreme Court chief justice nominee, a Supreme Court nominee, an Appellate Court nominee, and 30 Superior Court nominees.
But it’s not the qualifications of the nominees that’s causing concern for some lawmakers. It’s the sheer number of Superior Court nominees and the impact they will have on the state budget.
“Clearly we do not have enough available funds, staff or even caseloads to justify putting 30 more people on the bench,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Friday. “This is not about whether these nominees are qualified, although each one must be thoroughly vetted. This is about getting our state’s budget straight and not committing to massive new funding levels that are unsustainable and don’t make sense for the Judicial Department.’’
It will cost $8.74 million to fill 30 vacancies on the Superior Court.
The cost of a Superior Court judge, including salary but excluding fringe benefits, and including essential support staff, is around $291,410 per year.
The branch, according to the Chief Court Administrator Judge Patrick Carroll III, will see about 11 vacancies before June 30, 2019 so there will be funding for 11 judges. The branch, if it receives the same amount of money the governor proposed as part of his budget adjustment, would only be able to fund six additional judges at a cost of $1.7 million. That leaves 13 judicial nominations in need of funding. The cost of the judges and support staff would require an additional $3.79 million in funding, according to Carroll.
In a letter to Klarides, Carroll said, “Court monitors, temporary assistant clerks and judicial marshals are all under minimum staffing levels because of budget constraints. Very often courts cannot go into session or are delayed because of staff changes.’’
Carroll also pointed out that caseloads across the spectrum, from civil to criminal, family, small claims and juvenile, have decreased over the last five years.
“Cases are down, staffing is below minimum required levels, the state is facing huge deficits and revenue is volatile,’’ Klarides said. “Simply put, we cannot afford 30 more judges right now.’’
Klarides also asked Carroll to provide her with information about the judicial nominees of the previous two Republican administrations of former Gov. John G. Rowland and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Rowland nominated 112 Superior Court judges over his nine years and six months in office. Rell nominated 51 Superior Court judges over six and a half years, and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has nominated 90 Superior Court judges, a number which includes the 30 who will receive a public hearing Monday.
This is Malloy’s last batch of nominees.
Klarides pointed out that there was a dispute over the last 10 nominations Rell made in her final year in office.
“Once again, Representative Klarides gets the facts woefully wrong,” Kelly Donnelly, Malloy’s spokeswoman, said. “The fact is that all of the referenced nominations by Governor Rell were confirmed. In fact, Governor Rell left office leaving 12 vacancies on the Superior Court, while Governor Malloy plans to leave 21 vacancies. It is clear that she is once again injecting a venomous politicization of the courts for political gain. It is devious, disingenuous, and a new level of disturbing. These individuals are qualified and their nominations should move forward.”
In his letter to Klarides, Carroll said “As noted above, the Judicial Branch will be in deficit if all nominations are confirmed. The Judicial Branch has funding in its budget for 11 judicial nominees and can fund an additional 6 judicial nominees if no staff vacancies are filled throughout the Branch.”
Asked if they even have the space for an additional 30 judges, Carroll said they would have a hard time finding space for the judges.
“Accommodating an additional 30 judges would be a challenge in most courthouse locations,” Carroll wrote.