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.
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Marshal Academy is one of only 18 accredited academies in the
courthouses, our Court Service Centers truly are making a
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.
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
system has been accelerated and expanded with the goal of
becoming a virtually paperless system in 2010.
many of you may have noticed our greatly enhanced
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
These are just some of the innovations that we have been working
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
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
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
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.
- 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.
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.
addition, we have added to our website a link to
contacts within the Branch, a description of available services at
our courts and wheelchair access information.
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
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.
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.