Monday, November 20, 2006

Sullivan Redux

Disclosure: I have taken Justice Borden's class, enjoyed it, and found him to be a good teacher.

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."


ct_husky said...

I think I remember hearing about a similar-type amendment that was being put before SD voters as a ballot initiative (and if I'm remembering correctly, it was part of a larger movement to "correct" judicial branches in multiple states). Anyone know how that turned out?

Sounds like a horrible idea to me. It's one thing for the judiciary to recognize its own faults and attempt to correct them, as Justice Borden has seemingly done. It's quite another thing to place legislative oversight onto the court itself.

ct_husky said...

Here's a link to the "national movement":

Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I would like to see an ammendment to the Constitution that says there will be no more amendments to the Constitution for political purposes. Sullivan got spanked in front of eveyone they way he deserved. The lesson should be not to confrim anymore yahoos like Sullivan to the big bench.

Paul Vance said...

Very good post, Gabe. Justice Sullivan is a good man who appears now to be the subject of a political power grab. The judicial review council has made its findings, the matter is in the judicial system where it belongs.

The legislature should keep its collective "nose" out of the judiciary and stop trying to earn political points at the expense of a decent man.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone in the legislature actually proposed such an amendment? It seems to be just editorial page writers suggeting it.

Anonymous said...

What went on between Rell and Sullivan and their respective offices with regard to the Zarella apointment needs some sunshine let in by the legislature since the two of them have been mum on the issue. I wonder how much Sullivan cost the taxpayers with his adoloescent machinations.

Mirror said...

I find it interesting that the real story here is being ignored. When rowland first ran he got into a tiff with his exwife, supposedly over a barbeque - police were involved and refused to release the report. A newspaper filed an FOI and the FOI commission ordered the report released. rowland ran to court and the judge ordered the report sealed. When rowland became gov he appointed the judge to a more senior post and appointed a new flock of people of nodding heads to the FOI commission. When Plofsky of the state ethics, improperly, called rowland a liar, he was fired by the republican appointees for what was later determined, after rowland was caught, improper. Even the state elections commission was tainted . The state judiciary, under rowland had a policy of secret cases under seal. The president of UCONN's divorce and other special people's cases were hidden from the public and decided in secret ( wonder what academic favors were done for what lawyers, etc for the secret judicial favors).
This latest revelation is just another example of the rot that rowland and his buddies spread through the Connecticut government.

Authentic Connecticut Republican said...

>>"....When rowland first ran he got into a tiff with his exwife, supposedly over a barbeque .."

Nope - you've got that all turned around and the fact is it's sealed for a reason that has NOTHING to do with JR himself at all.

Forget it.

Anonymous said...

The Legislature has too much power already... to think they want to repeal the first amendment!

Mirror said...

Re "Authentic Republican" -- You all had fun for 12 years and we get to pay off the bonds for the next twenty. The DOT, PW, DEP, Uconn were all used to funnel enormous amount of tax money to the contractors for pretty shiny "public works projects" . Conn is now at the top of the highest per person public debt list in United States as a result and economically dying. Actually I heard two other very similar versions of what the rowland argument was really about - it was't a barbeque and if true would have blown rowland's canidacy out of the water.

Anonymous said...

Maybe when they write the proposed constituitional amendment they should include themselves. Sullivan held a decision, how many bills are held up or never see the light of day at the discretion of legislative leadership. Seems like no difference to me.

Mirror said...

Judges and prosecutors are held to a non partisan, non personal standard for good reason. Legislators are expected to play politics and personal games - in the "full glare" of the press. If you have backroom judicial decisions you have a return of the "star chambers of the fiteenth century and the return of a privileged class.

Anonymous said...

Mirror-- the word "judicial independence" mean anything other than we can;t critcise court rulings in favor of gay rights?

Perhaps the whole McDonald/Lawlor investigation is an effort to influence a pending case before the CT Supreme Court? If a favorable result is reached they will be left alone again.

Is that how an independent judiciary is supposed to work?

Mirror said...

Re: Gay rights Actually I became very conscious of the Ct. juducial system's problems due to a very minor involment in a horrendous child abuse failure at the DCYF which the Ct. Supreme Court deemed "appropriate". Personally gay rights are not an issue - I recognize that there are a proportion of people in our society that live in situations that are families but cannot act legally as families do -ie; medical care, financial, etc. That has to be addressed. I do have only one reservation and that is based on tradition - the word "marriage" for thousands of years has meant a relationship where two people, obviously a man and woman, join together, in a legal and social relationship, to support one another, materially and psychologically and to create and rear their own biological children. Call gays living together whatever else you want to but the "word" marriage is not applicable.