Acting Chief Justice Borden has announced his opposition to a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would subject the judicial branch's rule and procedure making process to legislative oversight. From the Courant:
Some officials who looked into reforming the judicial branch this year called for the amendment in response to a controversy involving former Chief Justice William Sullivan. Sullivan admitted that he delayed the release of a Supreme Court decision in March and April to help fellow Justice Peter Zarella's chances of being confirmed as his successor.
"I don't see the link between the rule-making power and the incident that has spawned this whole situation that I've been living under for the past seven months," Borden said, referring to the Sullivan controversy.
Borden said Thursday that several steps are already underway to make the judiciary more open, including guaranteeing access to judges' attendance records and opening judges' meetings to the public.
Borden set up his own committee this year to look at ways to improve the openness of the judiciary. He endorsed 35 of the committee's 38 recommendations, including a pilot program for cameras in courtrooms and posting criminal docket information online.
Although presented as a reaction to the Sullivan scandal, this amendment, if enacted, would not actually have any effect on the problem. In Sullivan's case, the rules for Judges was not at issue; it was clear (see below) that Sullivan broke the existing rules. This strikes me as an attempt by the legislature to use the Sullivan incident to grab power over the judiciary. Now, to be clear, we can argue about the merits of the amendment (personally, I think keeping the judiciary as insulated as possible from the politics inherent in the legislature is a goal of paramount importance), but there is no argument about the relationship between the amendment and the Sullivan scandal - it simply doesn't exist.
In other Sullivan news, former Chief Justice Sullivan received a 15 day suspension for holding up a decision to enhance the prospects of Justice Zarella succeeding him as Chief Justice:
The council voted 10-2 that he had not prejudiced the impartial administration of justice and brought disrepute to his judicial office. There was no smile, no evidence of relief.
The council voted 8-4 that Sullivan failed to observe high standards of conduct and preserve the integrity and independence of the judiciary. It voted 11-1 on what many had called the slam-dunk count: that he allowed his social or other relationships to influence his judicial conduct. The council unanimously rejected charges that Sullivan failed to promptly dispose of the business of the court and that he failed to discharge his administrative responsibilities.
The article correctly notes that the 15 day suspension was not the real punishment. Being "the first judge in the nation ever to be disciplined for holding up release of an opinion" and the irreparable damage to his legacy and reputation is the true penalty.
Sen. Andrew McDonald, the co-chairman of the judiciary committee, said there is little historic framework out of the Judicial Review Council against which to measure the severity of Sullivan's sanction. Only three judges since 1989 have received suspensions - one for five days, one for 15 and one for 30.
"By the precedents of the JRC, this is not an extraordinary penalty," McDonald said. "This was a clear manipulation of a branch's governmental operations for a brazen political purpose, to undermine a constitutional [confirmation] process."
But McDonald acknowledged the intangible penalty Sullivan has paid.
"In many ways, this is the denouement of Justice Sullivan's career," he said. "He's paid a personal price, as well as a legal price now."