The dramatic events of the past week involving the highest members of Connecticut's judicial branch of government should prompt an overhaul in the way that branch conducts its business. The time has come to subject this separate branch of government to Connecticut's historic freedom of information laws.I agree, we need to shine a light on the judicial branch. It's long overdue.
The revelations of the last week will, hopefully, provide the impetus for greater accountability and public scrutiny of court operations. These revelations involved a former chief justice, who first told me last December that he was contemplating retiring and then made it official March 15 in a letter to me. He has acknowledged that his delaying the announcement of a court ruling was to help the person I nominated as his successor.
Now the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on these revelations. I will take no further action on a nomination for chief justice until all questions are answered. But we need more than a hearing. We need fundamental reforms to ensure that this never happens again. (Rell)
But this doesn't quite get Rell off the hook. Zarella's nomination was extremely quick--happening at the exact same moment as Sullivan's retirement announcement. Rell also seemed to be in a terrible rush to get Zarella through the nomination process. Why?
At the time, the delay over Zarella seemed like a tug-of-war between the legislative and executive branches, but Justice Borden's principled revelation of Sullivan's attempt to grease the wheels changes things. Now we need to ask whether the executive branch was complicit in improperly helping Zarella's nomination along, and denying information to the legislative branch.
And we should. Access to and control of information is at the very heart of both the ruling that Sullivan had delayed and the bungled nomination process. It could absolutely be that Rell had no knowledge of what Sullivan was up to, or knowingly did anything to improperly speed Zarella's nomination along. But we should be sure of that. We should ask--and she should answer.
See also Colin McEnroe's excellent column today.
Rell, M. Jodi. "GOVERNOR: It's Time To Let A Little More Light Shine On Courts." Hartford Courant 30 April, 2006.