Sunday, April 30, 2006

Reasons to haul Chief Justice Sullivan off in handcuffs?

Court packing, obstruction of justice, cover-ups, retaliation and raping the Constitution, business as usual in Connecticut?

Rowland Sowed Judicial Scandal Waterbury Stamp Taints High Court, Judges Say
April 30, 2006 By LYNNE TUOHY, Hartford Courant Staff Writer

The scandal over the actions taken by former Chief Justice William J. Sullivan to help his ally on the court succeed him as head of the judicial branch has roots in the cronyism cultivated on the state's highest court by former Gov. John G. Rowland.Judges and others said Rowland's appointment of fellow Waterbury natives and close friends to be chief justice - Sullivan and his predecessor, Francis M. McDonald Jr. - politicized the judicial branch in an unprecedented way.

It was revealed last week that Sullivan secretly held up publication of a controversial ruling that computerized court dockets are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act to help Justice Peter T. Zarella's confirmation prospects. Sullivan and Zarella voted with the majority in the 4-3 ruling.

When confronted with his conduct, Sullivan acknowledged he had done it to help Zarella, but said he had done nothing wrong.

"I trace it all to the Rowland regime and the mentality that it's OK to manipulate the system," one judge said.

"It's the Waterbury connection, the last gasp of the Rowland mentality. It started with McDonald. You got a creeping sense things were not always above board. It accelerated with Sullivan."

Sullivan put a hold on publication of the ruling on March 14, the day before he sent a letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell saying he was going to resign as chief justice and assume senior justice status, meaning he could still hear cases. Three days later, Rell announced Sullivan's resignation and her intention to nominate Zarella to succeed him.Ironically, Sullivan's actions and the controversy that has resulted may have been the death knell for Zarella's prospects of being nominated by Rell after the session ends.

Her formal nomination on March 24 was destined to die on the Senate calendar because there was no time to hold a public hearing. In an apparent tactical move, Zarella asked Rell to withdraw his name from consideration on April 24 - the day the scandal broke - and Rell did.

A provision in the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from allowing "the judge's family, social or other relationships to influence his or her judicial conduct or judgment."

Legislative sources said the judicial review council, the body that disciplines judges, is investigating Sullivan's actions. This could not be confirmed, however, because complaints to the council are confidential unless and until council members decide there is sufficient evidence of misconduct to warrant a public hearing.Sullivan's assertion that he did not violate the Code of Judicial Conduct prompted one judge to ask:

"What else is he doing if he's this ethically challenged?"

The judges who spoke for this story did so on the condition that their names not be used for fear of retribution, such as being assigned to a courthouse a long drive from home.

"It's the Politburo," another judge said.

"You don't dissent or you get sent to Siberia. That's clearly the way the branch has been managed. Our job as judges is to hear both sides of the case, but the judicial branch doesn't want to hear both sides. It's very ironic."

Several judges cited the case of Superior Court Judge Carl Schuman, who was presiding over the complex-litigation docket in Waterbury last year when he fined Sullivan's son, attorney Timothy Sullivan, in connection with a perceived transgression in a case. Schuman, the judges said, was nearing the end of his three-year term in complex litigation and had requested to be assigned to criminal cases. He got his wish - but was assigned to criminal court in Danbury. He lives in West Hartford, at least an hour's drive away.

"Can I tell you that's why he's in Danbury?" one judge said.

"Schuman would probably tell you that's not why. But Carl's not as cynical as the rest of us. We know why he's in Danbury. It's a terrible commute, and it did happen after the fine occurred."

The biggest problem during Sullivan's administration was that people lived in fear that if they made a misstep, they were going to be punished. To me, that speaks volumes," he said.

Schuman has an unlisted phone number and could not be reached for comment Saturday.

"There is an inner sanctum, or management team," a judge said.

"If you're not part of that you're really on the outs."

Sullivan's confidants include Zarella, Judge William Lavery, who was elevated to chief judge of the Appellate Court by McDonald and appointed chief court administrator by Sullivan in February; Appellate Judge Joseph Flynn, another Naugatuck Valley native, promoted by Sullivan in February to succeed Lavery as chief appellate judge; and judge referees G. Sarsfield Ford and Howard Moraghan. Sullivan, 67, has been a judge since 1978.

Rowland appointed McDonald, a former veteran Waterbury state's attorney and judge for 15 years, to the state Supreme Court in 1996 and made him chief justice in 1999. McDonald served only 16 months before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70, but "he ushered in the Waterbury era," one judge noted.

When Rowland elevated McDonald to replace retiring Chief Justice Robert J. Callahan, he plucked Sullivan from the Appellate Court, where he had placed Sullivan in 1997, to fill the vacancy on the high court. When McDonald retired at age 70 less than two years later, Rowland tapped Sullivan to replace him.

The week before Rowland nominated Sullivan to be chief justice, the Connecticut Law Tribune took the rare step of running a front-page "Open Letter to the Governor" endorsing the court's senior member, Justice David M. Borden, for the top spot. Rowland eschewed seniority and named Sullivan.

Political insiders said Sullivan would consult routinely with or inform Rowland of appointments or promotions he was making inside the branch, even those that required no gubernatorial action or legislative approval.

"It was unseemly," said one judge with inside knowledge.

"The same people who are now jumping up and down about separation of powers are the same folks who have undermined it for years through backdoor deals and conversations back and forth with the governor's office."


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