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Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, State of the Judiciary speechState of the Judiciary
Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers
May 14, 2009
En español

Mister President, Mister Speaker, distinguished members of the House and Senate, my colleagues on the Supreme Court, ladies and gentlemen. I want to first thank you for allowing me this opportunity to address you.
 

 

One of my primary goals since becoming Chief Justice is to ensure that the lines of communication remain open among all three branches to promote a clear understanding of each others' charges and challenges as we serve the people of Connecticut.

I also want to thank and recognize my colleagues on the Connecticut Supreme Court. It is truly an honor to work with such a talented and dedicated group of justices every day. 

And, of course, I want to thank you, the Legislature, and the Executive Branch for recognizing through your words and actions that the Judicial Branch is NOT a discretionary agency but, instead, IS a separate, co-equal branch of government that performs an essential function for the people of Connecticut.CJ Chase T. Rogers at CT Legislature, State of the Judiciary

This recognition is especially important as you craft a budget during one of the greatest financial crises this state has ever experienced.  As you continue your work, I am confident that you will remember that the Judicial Branch needs adequate funding to administer justice. We simply cannot carry out our mandated responsibilities without the necessary resources.

As we work through this process, there will continue to be a healthy tension among the branches, which will require an ongoing, constructive dialogue. We know that such interdependence and discussion is productive and ultimately leads to better government. 

I want to thank the Legislature and the Executive Branch for the positive dialogue that has occurred during my tenure as Chief Justice and for avoiding acrimony that we know serves no useful purpose and ultimately erodes public trust. I am confident that these discussions have contributed to some of the many positive developments within the Branch which I would like to share with you today.

These developments would not have been possible without the multi-talented group of judges we have in Connecticut. These men and women are called upon every day to respond to some of the most pressing and difficult problems our society faces. They are our state’s legal umpires, who work tirelessly to ensure a level playing field for the public.

Imagine for a moment what your decision-making process would be in a 'termination of parental rights case,’ where the child has AIDS, the mother, despite having a profound love for her child, is not mentally equipped to care for her child, and the child has been in a secure foster home for four years. Do you terminate parental rights of the mother so the child can have the security of knowing she will be in a "forever" home for whatever years she has left, or do you allow the mother to maintain her rights so she can have regular visitation?

Or imagine listening to the mothers of a teenage murder victim -- and a teenage defendant -- plead for justice and then have to mete out a sentence that will likely not satisfy either side. These are the types of decisions our judges make every day. And, they do so with both close attention to the rule of law and with compassion.

I mention this because the first message to you about the “state of the judiciary” is that, through the judicial selection process that you as the Legislature crafted, Connecticut is fortunate to have some of the finest judges in the country.

To give you an idea of just how hard these judges are working, consider the following astounding statistics. Over the past two fiscal years, more than one million cases were filed in our Superior Courts. During the same time period, our courts disposed of almost the same amount. I'm sure you would agree that's a lot of business for a court system of approximately 200 full-time judges to handle. It is, in fact, one of the highest ratios of cases per judge in the states with a unified court system.

As you can imagine, we regularly review these numbers to keep us on track and aware of trends. But, as public servants, it is important to remember that these cases involve people. And, what the numbers fail to reflect is the innovative and practical approach that the Judicial Branch has taken to handle our caseload, with the ultimate goal of providing the best possible services to the individuals who use our courts. From our discussions with other state courts, we know that Connecticut's Judicial Branch is one of the most innovative in the country.

I'd like to provide you with just a few examples:
  • Because of the Foreclosure Mediation Program enacted by you during the 2008 Legislative session, many people who otherwise may have lost their homes have received a second chance. We are pleased to report to you that agreements were reached in over half the cases where people took advantage of the program and as a result, these residents were able to stay in their homes.
     
  • In another area, Judge Elaine Gordon, an experienced family judge, developed a DVD entitled, “Putting Children First: Minimizing Conflict in Custody Disputes.”  We know from feedback that this DVD has been extremely helpful to parents. It has been so successful, in fact, that other states have requested copies.
     
  • Our Community Court in Hartford, with its rehabilitative approach to “quality of life crimes,” was recently selected by the U.S. Department of Justice to serve as a mentor for other states. By making this selection, federal officials validated what we already know: that the Community Court makes a tangible and positive difference in the lives of Hartford’s residents.
     
  • Our juvenile justice system also makes a positive difference in the lives of our youth. For example, our juvenile detention system is the only one in the country that has been dually accredited by the American Correctional Association and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.
     
  • Our Judicial Marshal Academy is one of only 18 accredited academies in the United States.
     
  • Inside our courthouses, our Court Service Centers truly are making a difference.
     
  • In 2008 alone, the Court Service Centers and Public Information Desks assisted more than 260,000 self-represented parties, 46,000 attorneys and 31,000 other people, such as social service providers, witnesses and jurors.
     
  • On the technology front, the Judicial Branch has made great strides. We have revolutionized the way we conduct our business to ensure a more open, transparent and efficient judicial system. Specifically, the work on our civil e-filing system has been accelerated and expanded with the goal of becoming a virtually paperless system in 2010.
     
  • Finally, many of you may have noticed our greatly enhanced website. We know that this website is an invaluable tool to the public, the bar and the media. In December 2008, there were over six million pages viewed for the month on the interactive website – a 100 percent increase from the previous year. Of particular significance is the new Spanish web page, which we are expanding.

These are just some of the innovations that we have been working on.

Now, I would like to turn to the commitment I made during my confirmation hearing. As I stated then, my overriding goal is to enhance the confidence of the public in our judicial system. For the last two years, the Branch has engaged in a hard look at itself with input from users of the courts through the work of the Public Service & Trust Commission.

This panel, which I appointed shortly after becoming Chief Justice, was charged with developing the Branch's first ever strategic plan. I approved this plan in June of 2008. It is a roadmap for the Branch to address the needs of the people we serve over the next 3 to 5 years.

Briefly, by way of background, Appellate Court Judge Alexandra DiPentima as chairperson expertly led the 42-member commission as the group's work got under way. That work included receiving input from over a thousand people who are involved with the judicial system, including lawyers, advocacy groups, judges, court staff and the media. All told, these groups spent over 500 hours discussing how the Branch could best address the challenges it faces.

Throughout this enlightening and sometimes painful process, our judges played an integral role and had the courage to say, “How can we do this better?" and to look at ourselves honestly, with no imposed limitations or agendas. Put another way, for those of you with a military background, we did a "stand down," whereby we re-evaluated all of our systems, top to bottom, looking for ways to improve. 

With the strategic plan as our guide, committees were then appointed to do the hard work of developing specific steps and concrete performance measures for the recommendations contained in the plan. These committees have spent hundreds of hours identifying changes, both large and small, that we are confident will improve our judicial system. The initial areas of focus include: enhancing jury service, providing better resources to self-represented parties, better serving our limited-English proficiency population, and enhancing the judicial evaluation process.

Other areas being addressed include: exploring alternatives to court appearances, such as videoconferencing; improving court security; and doing a better job of educating the public about the courts.

What is particularly impressive about these committees is their emphasis on the overall experiences of those who use our courts. While we know we need to provide services for crime victims and their families, while also ensuring that a defendant’s rights are protected, we can’t forget about the person who has to take an unpaid day off from work to address a child support issue or to contest a speeding ticket. If, by the end of the day, they leave more bewildered than when they came in, then we have failed to provide the public service they deserve.

The influx of self-represented parties makes our efforts all the more critical, and the committee exploring that particular area has been working hard to make things easier for these individuals. For example, that committee is recommending:
  • the creation of educational “how-to” videos using judges to provide information to self-represented parties on basic civil and family procedures before they go to court,
     
  • that a pilot program for advice days using volunteer attorneys be started in a family court location, and
     
  • that all new and existing courthouses be equipped with a Court Service Center and/or a Public Information Desk.
You might be wondering how much all of this will cost. We recognize that whatever improvements we make now cannot carry a large, or even medium, price tag. So, the good news for both the Branch and for you is that we anticipate many of the recommendations will be implemented at little or no cost.

Just to give you one example of a low cost, high dividend change we have already made as a direct result of the strategic plan, we have now identified an ADA expert contact person in every court. These contacts have been provided with training on the ADA to help the public with their needs. In addition, we have added to our website a link to the ADA contacts within the Branch, a description of available services at our courts and wheelchair access information.

In another area, a legal exchange program has been implemented where at least once a year the clerk's office in each of the Judicial Districts will meet with members of the bar who practice there to discuss procedures and any problems the bar is experiencing in a particular courthouse. We hope that this program will reduce, if not eliminate, any complaints that you might receive regarding the court system. 

Another key component of our strategic plan is educating the public about the Judicial Branch. Our most effective ambassadors in this effort are our judges, and they have been out in force. You may have seen Judge Doug Mintz on a Sunday morning news show, informing the public about the Foreclosure Mediation Program. Or perhaps you saw Judges Ray Norko and Elizabeth Bozzuto quoted in a story about self-represented parties. Or you may have read the story about Judge Chris Keller’s involvement in helping to develop a program in Juvenile Court for parents who have substance abuse problems, with the goal of keeping families together. Most importantly, if you watch the evening news on any given night, under the revised rules regarding cameras in court, you will see our judges on the bench, doing what they do best -- presiding over cases. We hope that you will agree that all of these efforts are enhancing the confidence of the public in our Connecticut judicial system.

As we move forward, none of us has a crystal ball, although I don’t think we need one to know that tough times are ahead. But, as we confront these challenges together, I come here today to tell you that the “state of the judiciary” is strong, motivated and optimistic about the future.

I thank you for this opportunity to address you and look forward to working with you over the coming months to address the difficult issues facing our great state.

 

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