Judicial Selection And Incumbent Judges

The Hartford Courant has reported that Superior Court Judge Curtissa R. Cofield, who has received two serious disciplinary suspensions in recent years, is going through the Judicial Selection Commission (JSC) process for reappointment as a judge when her current eight-year term expires in June 2015.

By law, all judges (except probate) in Connecticut are appointed for eight year terms.  If a judge wants to continue to serve the public on the bench for another eight-year term, he or she must go through the JSC–a body composed of twelve people (six lawyers, six laypersons), some of whom are appointed by the Governor, others by leadership in the General Assembly.

As the Hartford Courant correctly noted, incumbent judges enjoy a statutory “presumption” that they are fit for reappointment.  That presumption may be rebutted by evidence demonstrating lack of fitness to continue serving as a judge.

But state law governing the JSC also establishes voting requirements that strongly favor the reappointment of incumbent judges.  Here is what General Statutes section 51-44a(i) says in relevant part:

A majority of the membership of the commission shall constitute a quorum. The affirmative vote of at least a majority of the members of the commission present and voting shall be required for any action by the commission except (1) an affirmative vote of at least a majority plus one of the members present and voting shall be required for a new nominee to be recommended to the Governor for nomination as a judge or for an incumbent judge to be recommended to the Governor for nomination as a judge to a different court and (2) an affirmative vote of a majority plus one of the members present and voting shall be required to deny recommendation to the Governor for nomination of an incumbent judge to the same court.

The italicized language means that, assuming all twelve members of the JSC are present, 8 votes (a majority of 7 plus 1) are needed to deny recommendation of an incumbent judge to reappointment.  Put another way, if only 5 of the 12 members support the judge, the JSC must forward the judge’s name to the Governor with a recommendation in favor of reappointment.  

Interestingly, section 51-44a(i) also states that although “[n]o vote of the commission on a new nominee shall be by secret ballot,” “[t]he vote of the commission on an incumbent judge may be by secret ballot.”  That means that a majority of the members voting on Judge Cofield’s reappointment application could decide to make the vote tally public.

By law, the Governor is not required to nominate an incumbent judge just because the judge has received the recommendation of the JSC.  And even if the Governor does nominate an incumbent judge, the legislature is not required to confirm his or her nomination.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: 6/3/2014 at 6:09 p.m.  Mark Pazniokas, at CT Mirror, reports that Judge Cofield has opted to retire and has withdrawn her application for reappointment.



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