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Prepared Remarks by Justice Peter T. Zarella
Bar Admission Ceremony
June 11, 2007

Thank you. I welcome the invitation to address the candidates, and am honored to be part of this momentous occasion in their lives. To the parents and families of the candidates for admission, I say thank you for all of the support that you provided to these men and women, as they pursued their law degree. To the candidates, I congratulate you on the completion of this journey and wish you luck as you start out in what I consider the most laudable of professions.

In a few minutes you will take an oath as an attorney. The oath speaks to honesty, and to your responsibility to your client. You will also take an oath as a Commissioner of the Superior Court. As such, you have a specific responsibility as a representative of not only the legal profession but the justice system itself.
 

Biography of Justice Peter T. Zarella

Judges' Corner

The preamble to the rules of professional conduct speaks to this by pointing out that a lawyer "is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice". As such, lawyers "should seek improvement of the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the legal profession". The preamble concludes with the statement that "[l]awyers play a vital role in the preservation of society. The fulfillment of this role requires an understanding by lawyers of their relationship to our legal system".

I am certain that you appreciate the importance of the attorney-client relationship, but one point in the preamble I just cited may not stand out in your understanding of the new role you are about to take on: officer of the court. You will be member of the legal profession, you will be a representative of the justice system, but you also will be an officer of the court.

In order to faithfully discharge those three duties, as the oath requires, you should seek to better understand the role of the courts in our society --- to appreciate the wisdom of the framers in establishing the judicial branch as a separate and coequal branch of government.

Connecticut's early history included a period when the highest court in the state was part of the legislative branch. In Connecticut, despite the incorporation of the doctrine of separation of powers into the U.S. Constitution, attempts to establish a similar regime in Connecticut proved costly to some. In 1804, citizen Abraham Bishop promoted a state Constitution that separated the three branches of government and defined voting qualifications. Several justices of the peace, the judges of the day, joined his effort. The response? They were removed from office.

Separation of the judicial function from the legislative function sounds like a basic civics lesson, but it was a lesson that was not so basic two hundred years ago. And even today it is not always clear how to maintain that separation or even what the exact contours of that separation are – or should be.

Seek to understand why separation of powers is still a matter of public discourse. You need to be comfortable with the proposition that separation of powers is not designed to promote governmental efficiency. Rather, it was adopted to prevent the exercise of arbitrary power by any one branch. That observation by Justice Jackson fifty years ago was made as part of his essay on the Supreme Court in the American System of Government. The accumulation of too much power in any one branch is a threat to all. Efficiency may have its own cost, and that cost may be of a constitutional magnitude. Notably, Justice Jackson also opined that "It is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error". You – as a citizen and as an officer of the court – may actually find that your duty to the court and your responsibility as a public citizen are easily reconciled – if you seek to understand the role of the courts in our system of government and in our society. As your understanding deepens, you will find yourself able to not only meet the standards of the code of professional conduct, but to help to achieve the ideals it embodies as well.

The doctrines of separation of powers and judicial independence are closely related concepts. However judicial independence is often misunderstood. It is not intended for the benefit of judges. It is not a free pass for judges to do whatever they want without being held accountable. Rather, judicial independence protects all of us and our democratic principles. And, as attorneys, you have a special role to play in protecting judicial independence. You must help us educate your clients and the public, for ultimately they are the beneficiaries of these efforts and the victims if we fail. In carrying forth this obligation, you also strengthen the Executive and Legislative branches, for only with three independent and vibrant branches does our government work as the founding fathers intended.

You won’t find the words “judicial independence” in the United States Constitution. But make no mistake about it: Our forefathers intended that our nation’s judges be able to make decisions relying only on the law and facts of a case, not whichever way the prevailing wind happened to be blowing or on the whim of a monarch. Our forefathers had their fill of King George III, who had made the colonial judges dependent on him for their tenure and pay. So while you won’t find the words in our Constitution, this tenet is implicit in Article III, the “judicial power” clause. That clause delegates to the judicial branch alone the power to decide individual cases.

To quote James Madison: “If a declaration of rights was incorporated into the Constitution, independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves in a peculiar manner the guardians of those rights; they will be an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive” branch. He added that these tribunals “will be naturally led to resist every encroachment upon rights expressly stipulated for in the Constitution by the declaration of rights.”

We have come a long way since then in the development of the principles of separation of powers and judicial independence. But we must be ever vigilant not to allow ourselves to take a step back from those principles because the benefits to our society are too great to lose. Judges able to take criticism coupled with systemic protections insuring the independence of the decision making process have led to some noteworthy advances in our jurisprudence and the protection of the rights of the people.

Consider, for example, the case of a man accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a young woman in 1963. You know his name: Ernesto Miranda.

It fell to the U.S. Supreme Court, led by a former governor named Earl Warren, to rule that the police had violated Miranda’s constitutional rights, a decision that rewrote this nation’s arrest procedure. Reaction? You bet. The Warren Court drew the ire of many, including the John Birch Society, for this ruling and others; there were “Impeach Earl Warren” bumper stickers and Warren Impeachment kits during his tenure as chief justice.

This was one jurist, however, who knew his mission. He once said, “Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile I caught hell for.” Chief Justice Warren, by the way, was the lightning rod who caught "hell" for Brown vs. Board of Education.

Or consider federal Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. You may not know much about him, so please allow me to briefly summarize from his biography, which is posted on the Presidential Medal of Freedom website:
In 1956, following the Montgomery bus boycott, Judge Johnson ruled against segregated city buses and later was the first judge to order names of qualified African-Americans added to county voting rolls. He wrote the first statewide school desegregation decree, and outlawed discrimination in Alabama’s libraries and transportation centers. In addition, Judge Johnson helped strike down literacy tests and opened U.S. Route 80 for the Selma-to-Montgomery March.

Well, as you can imagine, Frank Johnson was not the most popular man in Alabama during these turbulent times. In fact, a former classmate by the name of George Wallace called him an “integrating, scalawagging, carpetbagging liar.”

More seriously, a band of teen-agers burned a cross on his lawn. Worse still, someone set off a bomb under his mother’s car port.

Someone once asked Judge Johnson why he kept making such unpopular decisions. He answered, “You can’t intimidate me. If you can be intimidated, you don’t have any business being a judge.”

Thus, as I said, judges willing to make the decisions based only upon the law and facts, free from outside influences and pressures advance our unique concept of freedom and democracy.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the essence of judicial independence. It is the Earl Warrens and the Frank Johnsons, and every other federal and state judge who make courageous decisions every day, oftentimes in the face of great condemnation.

Once you take your oath it becomes your sworn duty as an officer of the court to do your part to promote the understanding of our system of justice, to seek to improve the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice and the quality of service rendered by the profession. If you always remember those concluding words in the Preamble to the Rules of Professional Responsible, that "[l]awyers play a vital role in the preservation of society", it will serve you well.

Enough serious talk. In closing, I would urge you simply to savor the rest of the day with your family and friends. This is a tremendous accomplishment worth celebrating, and I hope that you do just that because you certainly have earned every accolade you receive today. On behalf of the entire Judicial Branch, I congratulate you and wish you the best of luck in the years to come.

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