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Remarks of Senior Associate Justice David M. Borden, September 28, 2006

Senior Associate Justice David M. BordenThank you all for coming today. I recognize that matters of openness and accessibility of the courts are of great importance to members of the public. It is my hope that, upon reading the Judicial Branch Public Access Task Force report, the public will see that the Judicial Branch is committed to a court system that is open, transparent and accountable.

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I want to begin my remarks by saying how proud I am of the task force members and the staff who helped them in producing the report. It is obvious that it is the product of immense hard work and incisive thought. I cannot think of another instance in which any governmental body in this state has produced such an impressive document, on matters of such importance, and under such severe time constraints.

Keep in mind that the first meeting of the task force was on May 25th of this year, and the final report was submitted to me on time, on September 15th. This would not have been possible without the dedicated commitment of both the task force members and the staff, who worked throughout the summer, including nights and weekends. I am extremely grateful to all of the individuals involved for their selfless effort on behalf of the people of the state of Connecticut.

I would also like to thank the members of the judiciary, who perform with distinction and honor. Each day, our state judges are called upon to deal with serious problems affecting people’s lives, and do so, in the main, in an open and transparent fashion. I am proud to have these men and women as my colleagues. The task force recommendations will give them an even greater opportunity to demonstrate how well they do their job.

Now I would like to turn to my decisions on the 38 recommendations of the task force. I endorse 35 of the 38 recommendations. One recommendation, the definition of "meeting" for purposes of determining openness of judicial committees, will require further study. I do not endorse two recommendations that, in my view, involve fundamental legislative policy, which should be left to the general assembly—those are numbers 18 and 19, which address various legislatively created pretrial diversion programs.

I have produced a document that lists all of the recommendations, my decision on each, and how each will be implemented. As you can see from that document, some of the recommendations can and will be implemented administratively, without further delay. Some will require votes of the judges of the Superior Court. Some will require action by the rules committee of the Superior Court and then a vote by the judges. Some will require action by the appellate rules committee and then votes by the judges of the Supreme and Appellate courts. And some will require legislative action by the General Assembly in connection with rule changes by the judges.

I'd first like to highlight some of the recommendations that we will implement administratively without delay.

  • There will be online access to the daily criminal dockets.
  • The branch will adopt comprehensive written policies making clear that court records are presumed to be open and accessible, and that members of the public may use hand-held scanners to reproduce those records, eliminating copying fees.
  • All committees that were administratively created within the Judicial Branch will be open, and we will post on the branch website the times, places and agendas of their meetings. Examples of these are the Civil Commission and the Criminal Division Task Force.
  •  We will establish a Judicial-Media Committee, consisting of Judicial officials and media representatives, along with a “fire brigade” that will be able to answer questions and aid in the resolution of disputes over access to Judicial proceedings on the day those questions or disputes arise.
  •  Attendance records of the judges are open and accessible.
  •  We will add the word “open” to the mission statement of the branch so that it will now read, “to resolve disputes brought before it in a fair, timely, efficient and open manner.”
  •  We will make clear that note taking in courtrooms is permitted as a matter of Judicial policy—although the court will retain its traditional authority to prevent disruptive behavior in the courtroom.
  • We will post criminal conviction information online, taking care, however, to post the information in a form that will reduce the risk of identity theft.
  • We will review all Judicial Branch forms to ensure that they do not request information, such as social security numbers and the like, that would make identity theft easier, unless the information is necessary for the adjudicatory process.

These are just some of the recommendations that we can and will implement administratively. I’d now like to turn to some of the recommendations that will require the approval of the judges of the Superior Court or the two Appellate level-courts, either by direct vote or by a vote following a recommendation of the Rules Committee of the Superior Court or the Appellate Rules Committee. In this connection, I want to make it clear that I support these recommendations and will work with the judges to make them a reality. These recommendations are as follows:

  • Open the Rules Committee of the Superior Court, the Appellate Rules Committee and the executive committee of the Superior Court. In this connection, Justice Peter T. Zarella, who is the chair of the Rules Committee of the Superior Court and Justice Flemming L. Norcott, Jr., who is the chair of the Appellate Rules Committee, both support the opening of their respective committees.
  • Permit public access to police reports used to determine probable cause in criminal matters.
  • Rescind the present rule that seals financial affidavits in uncontested marital dissolution cases, leaving such sealing decisions to the same criteria that apply to all other civil court documents.
  •  Expand electronic access—television and still photo coverage—to the Supreme and Appellate Courts’ oral arguments. The proceedings will be presumed to be open to such coverage, and more flexibility will be permitted in the placement, use and number of the cameras.
  •  In the trial courts, institute a two–year pilot program of expanded electronic coverage of criminal proceedings, and also expand the electronic media coverage of civil proceedings, except for family and juvenile division proceedings. In both the criminal pilot program and the expanded civil coverage, the coverage will be presumed to be permitted and will be excluded only for good reasons stated on the record.
I want to emphasize, however, that all of these recommendations for increased electronic coverage of both trial and appellate proceedings have built into them protections for jurors, and for sensitive cases such as those involving child witnesses and victims of sexual assault.

These are just some of the highlights of the recommendations. I will be glad to take any questions that you might have.

 

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