Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Art Of The Deal ll

On Thursday, Rep, Michael Lawlor, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, announced with some fanfare that his committee had made a deal with Gov. Jodi Rell according to which Rell would agree not to close certain court houses and other judicial facilities in an effort to stem the rising tide of red in for which the Democratic controlled legislature is largely responsible, in return for which Lawlor agreed to allow judicial appointments made by Rell to pass through his committee.

The deal arrange by Lawlor and Rell permitted three courthouses to remain open, as well as three law libraries that previously were to be closed. Rell delivered on her part of the deal; Lawlor appeared to deliver on his. The head of the judiciary committee, who had threatened to hold up judiciary committee review of Rell’s prospective appointments, began his review.

Imagine Lawlor’s surprise and consternation when he learned but a day later that Senate Pro Tem Donald Williams had effectively nixed the deal.

Williams, apparently, had been taking a vacation on the moon when news of the "deal" arranged between Lawlor and rell transpired – because he did not co-ordinate his nixing of the deal with the co-chair of the judiciary committee. Both Lawlor and McDonald are leading Democrats in the Democratic controlled legislature, and have been known on occasion to speak to each other, both in person and by phone. And the deal had been fully covered in Connecticut's media.

Williams nixed the deal because he wants to use the judicial appointments under review by Lawlor as pawns in a budget negotiating session with Rell and the Republican minority in the legislature.

The Democrats are on record as preferring tax increases to spending reductions as a means of closing an historic budget deficit that may reach as high in coming years as $8 billion.

"I want to see the entire budget for 2011 resolved,” said Williams, “not just to resolve it piecemeal as to one branch, one agency. I think it needs to be part of the entire budget package. We need to resolve it all, not just one branch at a time."

Lawlor, who was in the process of reviewing potential judicial appointments when Williams announced he intended to tie the appointments to a final budget settlement, has not yet reproved his comrade in arms for holding hostage judges some of whom, according to Lawlor, were personal friend of his.

But Lawlor registered a surprise that floated below a level of concern for the integrity of his own committee. Nor did he seem concerned that William’s surprising intervention would impact on the sanctity of his word as a legislator.

According to a report in the Hartford Courant , an astonished Lawlor said, "It came as a surprise to everybody. This appeared to be the solution to the judicial problem. It seems to me we're on lockdown until this is all resolved."

On the Republican side, Senate leader John McKinney pointed out that there was no good reason to stall the appointment of judges in order to arrive at a budget compromise.

There are, in fact, only bad reasons.

McKinney said, the Courant reported, “he hopes an arrangement can be reached in the coming days to avoid a showdown where Williams would be ‘holding those judges hostage to try to get a budget settlement, and that would be extraordinarily unfair to those nine individuals — and unprecedented.’”

Unprecedented and historic: A new page of history is written daily in Connecticut.

And Rell?

Rell is Rell: Asked if she believed the judge-nominees were being held hostage, Governor Pangloss responded, “I have heard that comment, but I will tell you, obviously, everything is working around the budget. ... We'll deal with it, and that includes judges… I'll give the benefit to the majority party that they would not play games with people's lives. I don't think anything is held up or should be held up because we don't have a budget."

In this the best of all possible worlds, legislators who break their word are the best of all possible legislators.


Fuzzy Dunlop said...

Let's make no mistake: It would be unconscionable to close more courthouses and eliminate law libraries. However, judiciary is a little less innocent than they like to make it seem. For one thing, the branch is grossly overstaffed. Look at some of the salaries for administrative and clerk staff. You have some court administrators who are getting paid more than judges. Moreover, many judges have "permanent" clerks, who earn six figures, will collect massive pensions, and will never leave. As a point of reference, federal judges used to have permanent clerk positions but they have been eliminated; now a federal clerk can only serve for five years, and receives relatively modest pay compared to what they could make in the private sector. The rationale is sound; some institutional memory is important, but five years is enough.

What is more shocking, is that none of these employees are unionized. Their massive salaries are not negotiated, just given.

Court and law library closings would be a black eye for everyone. But the judicial branch cannot play innocent; it's whining about the governor saddling it with more judges and a lower budget sounds a lot like a kid crashing the cadillac his parents gave him and then complaining that he doesn't have a car.

Bottom line: If judicial wants to get serious about the budget, it needs to start by eliminating permanent clerk positions, cap salaries for administrative staff, and take away judge giveaways like cars and mileage.

Don Pesci said...

Good to know Fuzzy. Thanks.