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Remarks by Justice Peter T. Zarella
Attorney Admission Ceremony
November 3, 2003

Thank you, Chief Justice Sullivan. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you today. I can assure you that anyone who has previously completed law school and taken a bar exam understands the importance of this day to each of you and to those who helped you achieve your goal of becoming an attorney. The joy of this day is rightfully shared by those who helped to make it possible.

In a few minutes each of you will take an oath that evinces the high standard of responsibility that is inherent in the office to which you have aspired. The deceptively simple words of that oath are as follows:

"You solemnly swear or solemnly and sincerely affirm, as the case may be, that you will do nothing dishonest, and will not knowingly allow anything dishonest to be done in court, and that you will inform the court of any dishonesty of which you have knowledge; that you will not knowingly maintain or assist in maintaining any cause of action that is false or unlawful; 

Biography of Justice Peter T. Zarella

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that you will not obstruct any cause of action for personal gain or malice;  but that you will exercise the office of attorney, in any court in which you may practice, according to the best of your learning and judgment, faithfully, to both your client and the court; so help you God or upon penalty of perjury."

While the words themselves may be easily spoken, the significance of their practical application in your days ahead as an attorney should be considered with deliberation before you voice them today. They offer guidance and they demand responsibility at the same time. You should not recite the words of this oath unless you truly intend to live up to what they will require of you.

As Judge Newell Jennings said in his address to the candidates for admission to the Connecticut Bar in 1933:

"The very fact of your taking this oath sets its mark upon you. Its character, while not perhaps unique, is certainly exceptional. If you want to open a delicatessen store you do not have to make oath that your butter will be 16 ounces to the pound and your vinegar two pints to the quart. If you decide to operate a taxicab you make no promises whatever. But you may not become a member of the bar without taking this oath. Furthermore, you take the oath voluntarily. No one has required you to become a lawyer. Plenty of lines of activity were open to you which involved no obligation of this character....This being so, you should take it, not only without any mental reservations whatever, but with the sincere and earnest intention to strive to conform to all its provisions in every particular. It calls for active, not passive, compliance."

As I reflect on the words of Judge Jennings, I am reminded of the timeless mandate and current relevance of the charge given to those who entered our noble profession so many years ago. The very fact of its continued relevance today suggests that profound and universal truths lurk beneath the simplicity of the words themselves. For example, in the words of Judge Jennings, "active, not passive, compliance" to this oath is essential, and active compliance would suggest that aspiring to do justice is simply not enough. You must act on your worthy aspirations, or they mean little in this profession.

As we seek today to find practical guidance in the words of the oath, we cannot overlook the underlying notions of honesty, character and fidelity that are apparent throughout the words of the oath.

In 1891 Chief Justice Andrews wrote the following in a case entitled Fairfield County Bar v. Howard W. Taylor:[1] "It is not enough for an attorney that he be honest. He must be that, and more. He must be believed to be honest. It is absolutely essential to the usefulness of an attorney that he be entitled to the confidence of the community wherein he practices...But...if once the practice becomes to him a mere 'brawl for hire', or a system of legalized plunder where craft and not conscience is the rule, and where falsehood and not truth is the means by which to gain his end, then he has forfeited all right to be an officer in any court of justice or to be numbered among the members of an honorable profession."

We can take from these words the practical lesson that the dividend of honesty is a respected and honorable reputation. As Chief Justice Baldwin noted in 1906 in Matthew O'Brien's Petition for Admission to the Bar:[2]  "Character, so far as it can be judged by men, rests on opinion." The opinion of your fellow attorneys and the community as a whole should, therefore, be valued and safeguarded from tarnish.

The notion of fidelity or faithfulness has its rightful role in the words you are about to repeat, as you will attest - just as many before you have attested - "that you will exercise the office of attorney faithfully, to both your client and the court...". In exercising your new office as an attorney, you will be faced at times with the practical dilemma of balancing split loyalties. You will have an obligation to represent your client zealously, while at the same time, your oath requires you to be faithful to the court. When these obligations appear to collide, where will you turn for guidance?

Even the most experienced of attorneys wrestle with ethical dilemmas. Those who successfully negotiate the choppy waters of such dilemmas often do so because they have both the sound judgment to seek the counsel of colleagues along with the wisdom to seek the inner truth of personal conscience.

Because you are a member of an honored profession, you do not have to rely solely on your legal education and your inner instincts when faced with the many issues that will give you pause as you seek to comply with the oath that you are about to take. Instead, you have available to you professional mentors and other resources that will help you to chart a course that will lead you safely through these sometimes turbulent waters.      

Make use of your bar association's committee on professional ethics, for example, and after you have consulted those counselors whom you respect, step back and be contemplative before you act. As William Shakespeare said, "To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."

You may wonder why so many of the quotations I have used in these remarks are from speakers or writers that lived and wrote many years ago. I have done so to illustrate to you the timeless relevance of the words and precepts of the oath, as well as the unchanged challenge of putting the words into practice.

I would be remiss in my message to you today if I left you thinking that the practice of law is continually fraught with the moral dilemmas and ethical conundrums about which I have just spoken. You should look forward to the joy and satisfaction that you will experience through helping your clients, often in times of great difficulty in their lives, to find order in chaos or to experience justice in the complexities of our legal system. You will also find great pleasure in mentoring new attorneys, like yourselves, and in working collegially with your fellow attorneys to find solutions and to reach just settlements. You are privileged today to become an integral part of a time-honored profession, steeped in worthy traditions which you must strive to maintain, so that those who follow you will understand from your example what it means in practical terms to comply actively with the words and the spirit of the oath that you are about to take.

I extend to you, on behalf of the Justices of the Supreme Court and the men and women on the Judicial Branch our sincerest congratulations and best wishes.


[1] Fairfield County Bar v. Howard W. Taylor, 60 Conn. 11, 17-18 (1891).

[2] O'Brien's Petition, 79 Conn. 46, 54 (1906).


 

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