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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Sullivan hearings begin

This is not going to be good news for Gov. Jodi Rell as the disciplinary hearing into the actions of former Supreme Court Chief Justice William J. Sullivan started today.

For those who do not remember, Justice Sullivan delayed the release of a court decision by potential successor Justice Peter T. Zarella in order to help Zarella win confirmation as the new Chief Justice. The release of Zarella's decision would have damaged his chances of becoming the next Chief Justice.

The events surrounding Zarella's nomination process has been bizarre from the beginning starting with Gov. Rell strong-arming the legislature's judicial committee to speed the nomination process along with Sullivan's possible illegal actions. Gov. Rell has never explained why she attempted to speed Zarella's nomination nor has she or anyone from her staff acknowledged whether or not they knew about Sullivan's action beforehand.

Yesterday, Democratic candidate John DeStefano issued a press release and urged Gov. Rell to come clean and explain her role in the entire affair.

"Gov. Rell should explain why she put unprecedented pressure on lawmakers to fast track Justice Zarella's nomination," said Derek Slap – DeStefano campaign spokesperson. "Voters have a right to know if she or anyone on her staff knew of Chief Justice Sullivan delaying the release of the court decision and withholding it from lawmakers who were about to vote on Justice Zarella's nomination."

The court decision in question said the judicial branch's criminal and motor vehicle dockets are not open to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. Justice Zarella voted in the majority, against the public disclosure of information. Chief Justice Sullivan is now accused of improperly delaying the release of Justice Zarella's vote.

An editorial in the Hartford Courant on April 16th reads, "Nobody -- least of all Gov. M. Jodi Rell -- has persuasively explained why the legislature must rush to judgment on the nomination of Associate Justice Peter Zarella to be chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court."

Another article said Gov. Rell's actions amounted to, "blindsiding legislative leaders." Rep. Michael Lawlor - co-chair of the judiciary committee, was quoted as saying, "I smell a rat, and we're going to figure out what it is," said Lawlor. "I do know one thing. Usually, when there is an attempt to sneak things through at the last minute, there's a reason for it. It's incumbent on us to find out what that reason is."

"Gov. Rell privately berated lawmakers, including members of leadership, and used all the power of her office to rush through a nomination," said Slap. "Just as former Chief Justice Sullivan is publicly explaining his role in this process, so should Gov. Rell."

Well, after many months, it seems like we're going to get some answers as today Sulivan admits to delaying the release of Zarella's decision.
Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice William J. Sullivan acknowledged delaying the release of a court decision earlier this year to help a potential successor win confirmation, fellow Justice Richard N. Palmer testified at a hearing Wednesday.

Palmer and acting Chief Justice David M. Borden were the first two witnesses at a hearing on whether Sullivan violated state law and the judicial code of conduct by holding the decision to help Justice Peter T. Zarella, Gov. M. Jodi Rell's nominee to become chief justice.

[...]

The Judicial Review Council, an independent body that investigates complaints against judges, charged Sullivan in July after he admitted delaying the release of a decision in which Zarella voted with the majority to keep certain judicial records secret from the public. Sullivan was concerned Zarella's position would be an issue during legislative confirmation hearings.
The entire situation surrounding the Rell nominating Zarella was strange from the start and many questions surrounding Rell's actions have gone unanswered. With Sullivan's hearing back in the spotlight, questions regarding Rell's role in the matter is sure to resurface.

You can watch the hearing online at CT-N now.