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Remarks by Chief Justice William J. Sullivan
State of Judiciary
April 11, 2001

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Senate President Pro Tem Sullivan, Speaker Lyons, Governor Rell and distinguished members of the House and Senate, my colleagues on the Supreme Court, ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you for your warm reception. I welcome the opportunity to update you on the State of Connecticut's judiciary, and to talk to you about some of the challenges that I see ahead.

When I took the oath of office of Chief Justice in January, I inherited a legacy of excellent leadership from my predecessors. There is a continuity of vision that binds us. The mission of the Judicial Branch is now, as it has been since the inception of Connecticut courts, the fair and timely resolution of disputes.

As we have pushed to fulfill that mission, you have been there, in good times and in bad, with your ongoing support of our needs. The beneficiaries of that excellent and respectful working relationship are, of course, our mutual constituency, the people of Connecticut.

I can report to you that the State of the Judicial Branch is strong. Due in large part to the efforts of Governor John G. Rowland and this Legislature, Connecticut now has a Judiciary that is supported as well or better than it ever has been.

The Biennial Report of the Judicial Branch that was provided to you at the beginning of the session gives in depth statistical caseload information on our courts. I will not reiterate the specific numbers contained therein. Instead, today I would like to highlight three specific areas of branch progress.

It is no secret that the backlog of cases in our courts has been a thorn in our side. The possible reasons for that backlog are important only to the extent that they point the way to solutions. We are not living in our parents' world, and the cases that come before the courts reflect the complexity of our society. For that reason, matters inevitably require more time to resolve, and the dockets have at times approached gridlock.

We have been fortunate during the last biennium to have nineteen new judgeships added to our roster. I am hopeful that this additional number will not only reduce the current pending caseload, but will also alleviate the inevitable stress faced by an overworked trial bench.

The judicial salary increases that you approved during the past legislative session will also go a long way toward attracting the best legal minds for judicial openings. We thank you for recognizing the need for additional judges and the importance of fair compensation. For our part, we will continue to maximize the resources already in place in order to provide as much support as possible for the entire Judiciary.

The second area of progress that I would like to briefly touch on is facilities, the bricks and mortar, if you will, of our courts. In our society, the physical foundation of a justice system is sometimes overlooked. Too often, the buildings that house our courts and support offices take a back seat during times of budgetary constraint. We thank you for having recognized that facilities are not merely buildings, but the public face of Connecticut's justice system. It is crucial that they be good, safe, modern facilities, not only for our citizens to bring or defend their disputes, but also for those fellow citizens whom we ask to fulfill their civic duty as jurors.

Over the past several years, the Judicial Branch has received much needed bond allotments for infrastructure improvements on our buildings. It is our responsibility to remain vigilant about the security of those buildings. In unfortunate recognition of the more violence-prone society in which we live, the Branch has invested extensively in security improvements, such as weapon detection stations, electronic security systems and cell block modifications.

On the new construction front, since 1998 we have completed much-needed courthouses in New Britain, Waterbury, and Danielson, and new courthouses for Juvenile Matters in Willimantic, Waterford, and Torrington. Those new buildings have allowed for the consolidation of Judicial services, and in many instances have helped to revitalize the city neighborhoods in which they are located.

Renovation of existing structures has also played a major role in our facilities progress. The Hartford Community Court Session, one of the nation's leading models, is housed in a newly renovated building. As you know, that court was established in 1998 as a partnership with the city of Hartford and the community. When members of the community or visitors from other parts of the country step through the doors of this clean, modern facility, they recognize the importance that we attach to this different kind of court.

We are on schedule to open the long-awaited Stamford courthouse in December of this year. A state-of-the-art building, it will not only more than double the number of courtrooms and hearing rooms, but in that Judicial District it will also house all agencies under one roof, thereby, once again, helping to make more efficient the handling of cases. Also included in the building will be a two-floor law library, especially helpful for the Bar and public.

To accommodate the severely cramped appellate court, renovation of 75 Elm Street in Hartford is slated to commence by the beginning of next year. We anticipate that the project, now in the architect design phase, will be completed by late 2003.

Because major building projects stretch for a period of years, it has always been crucial to continue with timely construction schedules. Governor Rowland and this Legislature have understood that, even though tempting to delay when times are difficult, we must push on.

Since January I have visited 16 of the 48 courthouse locations we have. I only found one area seriously lacking in facilities, and that was in the Litchfield county G.A. and J.D. courthouses. However, a new courthouse is in the planning stages for that area. Hopefully, whatever problems are involved with this project can be overcome quickly so we can get on with the construction of that courthouse. I plan to visit the remaining courthouse locations in the months ahead.

You are intimately familiar with the last area about which I would like to give you a status update—Judicial Marshals. On December 1, 2000 approximately 1000 Special Deputy Sheriffs became employees of the Judicial Branch.

The most important aspect of the ensuing transition was to maintain the smooth running of the daily business of the courts while keeping the highest level of security. The Hon. G. Sarsfield Ford has been appointed Chief Administrative Judge for Judicial Marshal services. Temporary Chief Judicial Marshals have been put in place to ensure the necessary framework of administration as we move forward expeditiously to complete the integration of our new employees.

To date, the Supreme Court has approved an administrative structure for the courthouse marshals, and collective bargaining negotiations are underway relative to the marshals. We are in the process now of hiring a permanent staff to supervise this operation.

Training is an important component of our planning. With the potential addition of new hires, new Marshal training is an immediate need. The process of updating and improving the former Sheriff's department curriculum has begun. Annual in-service training of the Marshals will continue, carried out by a cadre of Marshals who have been certified to teach specific topics, like management of aggressive behavior. Marshals will be included in both court operations and Branch-wide training programs such as public service excellence and studies in diversity.

An analysis of current funding has been completed. It is assured that we will operate within the appropriation.

There will always be, however, numerous challenges on the horizon.

We must continue the reduction of the pending caseload. Once matters come within our purview, their expeditious movement through our system becomes our problem. We have taken a multi-faceted approach to find solutions.

First, with your authorization of additional judges, a separate Civil Complex Litigation docket has been added in five strategic locations (New Britain, Stamford, Waterbury, Norwich and Tolland). This initiative allows actions that involve multiple parties and extensive first impression issues to be removed from the pending civil caseload and treated separately, with the necessary close judicial supervision. Their removal further allows the regular Civil docket to continue on to trial and disposition without interruption. Second, we have begun the implementation of recommendations from the Civil Commission, which was established last year to improve the process for adjudication of civil cases. Issues such as Short Calendar motion procedures are being addressed, and the hope is that the outcome of this committee's work will be to make the lives of parties to litigation and the practicing attorneys a bit easier.

In the Criminal area, an initiative was undertaken last year to attack the backlog of pending murder cases in our busiest Judicial Districts. A substantial number of additional judges and resources were deployed into those criminal courts, first in Hartford, and then into New Haven and Bridgeport. The result was a substantial decrease in the number of our most serious criminal cases. I am pleased to note that there has been no significant increase since that time. To further improve the process for adjudication of criminal cases, I have recently established the Criminal Commission. Its fifteen members, consisting of practicing private attorneys, judges, prosecutors, and public defenders will be in a position to make knowledgeable recommendations as to procedure changes as well as rule and statutory changes so as to make our courts more amenable to the litigants and attorneys who use them.

We must continue to respond to the needs of Connecticut's crime victims. Our Office of Victim Services provides financial compensation, information and referrals, and victim assistance. The Branch remains committed to guaranteeing the rights of victims, and recognizes that society's increasing awareness of their position in the criminal justice system will inevitably lead to a greater demand for our services.

We must continue to develop innovative responses to meet the growing demand in the juvenile justice area. We have expanded our juvenile alternative sanctions programs in community-based day and residential programs. We have juvenile justice centers in 12 communities that link juveniles and their families with existing local services. We have court-based assessment centers to provide sufficient information so that a judge can determine the best possible placement for a child. We have greater availability than ever of outpatient substance abuse and mental heath treatment services. But we only have to read a newspaper or listen to a newscast to know that more must be done for our at-risk children.

To accomplish all that we must, we need to make use of the technological advances within our grasp. In the world of the Internet, the web, the e-everything, to stand still is to lose ground. Technology is not an end in itself, but a tool to perform our responsibilities quicker and better. We will continue to use every one of the tools at our disposal.

As I carry on my stewardship, I thank you again, on behalf of the Judicial Branch for your considerable support. I am confident that as we go forward into this next century, we can continue to rely on your thoughtful deliberation of our needs and the financial support to meet them.

 

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