Thank you for the opportunity to
appear before you today to talk about an issue that is extremely important to the Judicial
Branch the appointment and reappointment of judges.
I would like to begin by stating that we should
all be proud of our states current procedure for selecting and re-appointing judges
it is one of the best in the country. All one has to do to appreciate the benefits
of our system is to look to the recent experiences of our neighboring States.
Connecticuts judges deal with over 700,000
cases each year with very little controversy. It is apparent that our systems
balance of judicial independence and judicial responsibility ensures the quality of the
bench. The Connecticut judicial system is held up as an example of what others should
strive for, and we are regularly consulted by other states and countries for advice.
The single most important aspect of our current
system is the concept of judicial independence. Judicial independence is critical to the
functioning of any democracy as evidenced by its incorporation into the structure
of our nations government established by the federal constitution. The concept of
judicial independence is one of the key factors that distinguishes our system of
government from others around the world. It protects the weak from the powerful; the
minority from the majority; the poor from the rich; yes, even the citizens from excesses
What does the concept of judicial independence
mean? It surely includes the ability and duty of a judge to decide each case according to
an objective evaluation and application of the law, without the influence of outside
factors. The citizens of our State rightly expect that in every case decided by a court.
Connecticuts method of appointing and
re-appointing judges screening of applicants by an independent commission,
nomination by the governor and confirmation by the General Assembly builds in a method of
merit selection and accountability. This closely mirrors the system for appointing judges
to the federal courts with the exception that federal judges are appointed for
life. It is hard to imagine the same level of judicial independence in a system where
judges are elected. Judges should not be afraid of the effect an unpopular but legally
sound decision might have on their re-election or reappointment. This would create
a temptation for a judge to make a decision based on how it would be perceived by those in
power from time to time without regard for the law. Judges are particularly vulnerable at
reappointment because the threat of returning to private law practice is a real concern
for people who have left behind their relationships and been away for eight years.
The concept of judicial independence is
supported by our statutes on the reappointment of judges. Section 51-44a of the General
Statutes, regarding evaluation by the Judicial Selection Commission of judges for
reappointment, states that, "There shall be a presumption that each incumbent judge
who seeks reappointment to the same court qualifies for retention in judicial
Let me turn now to more specifics about the
Judicial Branchs role in maintaining a well-qualified judiciary. I would like to
first point out that the Judicial Branch does not participate in any way in the selection
or appointment of new judges. We do, however, work with the Legislative and Executive
Branches during the re-appointment process. And we do operate a judicial performance
evaluation program for current Superior Court judges.
The Connecticut Judicial Performance Evaluation
Program has been recognized throughout the country as being on the cutting edge of
meaningful judicial evaluation. Operational since the mid-1980s, its purpose it to
evaluate the on-the-bench performance of judges. This program permits the Branch to
measure the views of two of our most important participants attorneys and jurors.
Questionnaires are distributed to attorneys who appeared before the judge for a proceeding
that lasted at least one hour, and to jurors who sat on a case presided over by the judge.
The attorney questionnaire measures a judges attitude toward individual groups and a
judges performance based upon select characteristics. The juror questionnaire
relates to the judges attitude toward the specific groups. The attorneys and jurors
are encouraged to be forthright by the care exercised to keep the respondents anonymous.
These results of these evaluations are used in
three ways. They are used by a Deputy Chief Court Administrator, who meets with judges
regularly to discuss them. They are used in the design of educational programs for judges.
They are also provided to the Judiciary Committee and the Judicial Selection Commission at
the time for considering the re-appointment of a judge. It is important to note that,
since its inception, the evaluation program has resulted in overwhelmingly favorable
responses from attorneys and jurors.
The reappointment of judges to subsequent
eight-year terms is largely a matter for the Executive and Legislative Branches of
government. However, the Judicial Branch is committed to cooperating fully with those
branches of government to ensure that they have all the information that is pertinent to
the renomination of any judge. Our efforts are aimed at ensuring that the reappointment
process is based on all the available information on that judge, so the decision that is
made is based on the complete picture, not just one incident or aspect that has come to
If I have one message to deliver here today it
would be that our system of government depends upon the independence of the judges to
decide cases based upon the law free from fear of retribution, and that the system for
appointment and reappointment should guarantee that to our citizens.
I will leave to others whose testimony will
follow the specifics of the legislative actions most likely to bring about that result.
I would like to thank the committee for all the
time and effort it has put into looking into this very important matter and for the
opportunity to testify here today.