Time for openness in judicial selection process

I’ve been fortunate to have an involvement in various elements of government since 1957. My lifetime has included tenures as a newspaper reporter, radio newsman, state employee (health, judicial and legislative departments) and a ten-year tenure on a congressional staff. My early working days as a reporter (Norwich Bulletin, Hartford Times, New London Day) developed a strong and continuing advocacy of openness in all levels of government.

That’s part of the foundation for my belief that operations of Connecticut’s Judicial Selection Commission should be totally public. I found my three years on the agency (2001 to 2004) as one of the most pleasurable in my government service. But I always felt a little uneasy with the secrecy of its programming–something, I know, that lawyer-aspirants for judgeships as well as sitting judges going through a confirmation stage thoroughly favor.

I don’t subscribe to the theory that opening the JSC to public scrutiny will adversely impact the caliber of candidates seeking appointment to the state bench. Judicial appointments are the public’s business–through every phase of the process. It is the taxpaying public that finances those jobs and taxpayers have a right to know all about the process.

I find it strange that the neighboring state of Rhode Island completely opens its judicial-selection process to the public. I spend some summer time in that state and the Providence Journal regularly reports on the candidates, their backgrounds, the hearings and all that is involved at that level of job-search.

Some lawyers say they would not want their firms to know of their search for a judgeship; others say they would not want to be embarrassed should they seek clearance from the commission and be turned down. I say that’s blarney. If you want to play in the process, be willing to be up front.

Rhode Island has never been known as a state with top-drawer government but it certainly is ahead of the Nutmeg state on judicial processing. Time for a change–a courageous one. But don’t bet on it materializing.

Dennis J. Riley is retired from state government. He lives in Norwich

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