Connecticut Supreme Court Cat Fight
April 25, 2006
The long knives are out, sharp and dangerous on the Connecticut Supreme Court this week. I half expect to see the head of one of the justices on a pike when next I appear at the courthouse.
It all started when former Chief Justice William Sullivan abruptly announced his retirement. The governor, Jodi Rell, a Republican caretaker filling the balance of a term left vacant when Gov. John G. Rowland was convicted of a felony and packed off to prison, appointed the court's lone Republican to be chief justice. His name is Peter Zarella. The Legislature asked for time to prepare for confirmation hearings. "No," cried the governor: "I want what I want when I want it."
What Rell got was egg all over her face and all over the facade of the Court.
It turns out departing Chief Sullivan sat on a controversial decision in which Zarella was part of a majority that voted to keep certain court records private, a decision sure to anger some lawmakers. Rather than publishing the decision in due course, Sullivan directed that it float in limbo for a while, hoping the Zarella nomination would be pushed through before anyone got too wound up.
When fellow justices wondered what became of the decision, all Hell broke loose. The acting chief, David Borden, has now written a letter to the Judiciary Committee complaining of misconduct by the former chief. And Sullivan himself has fessed up to manipulating publication of the decision to benefit his favored son. Undeterred by all this sleaze, the Republican majority of the state's Judiciary Committee nonetheless voted to approve the nomination. Soooooooo-eee
This morning, Zarella is playing pope.Quite a fella, that Zarella He has withdrawn his nomination because he won't get a full hearing before the Judiciary Committee and therefore can't be appointed during the current term of the Legislature. In other words, he is not closing the door to appointment. He just wants to be asked again. That's the same old Karaoke sung at the College of Cardinals where soon-to-be Popes are expected to modestly decline the nomination before accepting.
This unseemly gamesmanship on the state's highest court is discouraging. Is the court doing justice, or are the justices merely doing one another in?
Former Chief Justice Sullivan will not be remembered for decisions of brilliance, or for leadership of the Court during a period of growth and achievement. He will be remembered as a man appointed Chief Justice by a governor convicted of corruption and sent to prison. He will be remembered as the chief who played politics and got caught, causing scandal and undermining public confidence in the Court.
I hear that Oyez may no longer be the means by which the court is opened. Some thought is being given to a cry of Sooooooo-eee.