Making Public What Seldom Is

Remember the State Supreme Court scandal of last spring? No? Well, you're forgiven because it's so confusing, but it's important to keep up with this one.

It was back in April that State Supreme Court Chief Justice William Sullivan announced his retirement. It was no secret he wanted Associate Justice Peter Zarella to take over his job, and the governor indeed nominated Zarella.

But then Sullivan admitted he had withheld publication of a controversial Supreme Court ruling because he thought it might hurt Zarella's chances of being approved for that top job by the legislature. That ruling--a four to three decision--showed that Zarella had been among those deciding not to open certain judiciary branch records under the Freedom of Information law.

Members of the legislature's Judiciary Committee--Representatives Williams, McDonald, Lawlor and others--said they were outraged by Sullivan's manipulating court records for political reasons, as well as by other questions about how the high court does its business.

In the end the body that polices judges--the Judicial Review Council--charged Justice Sullivan with five violations of the judicial code and state law. The Council took testimony from other justices for its investigation. Such records are almost always kept secret, but this time, it was decided by the Council and the Attorney General to make them public now, and more to come at a hearing on September 6th.

The testimony doesn't reflect anything conclusive yet, but stay tuned. In a case that is looking at nothing less than the question of whether the state's highest court is operating legally and ethically, it's good to see transparency seems a top priority.