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Judge Henry S. CohnA Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Supreme Court
and State Library Building
(Part 1 - Old State House)
By Judge Henry S. Cohn

On November 30, 2010, Old State Houseunder the direction of Associate Justice C. Ian McLachlan and State Librarian Kendall Wiggin and their committee, the Supreme Court and State Library celebrated the 100th anniversary of the opening of the building at 231 Capitol Avenue, that houses the State Library, Memorial Hall and Museum, and the court itself.

The day consisted of oral arguments held at three sites where the Supreme Court has held or continues to hold sessions–The Old State House, the Old Judiciary Room at the State Capitol, and the present courtroom at 231 Capitol Avenue.
The Old State House proceeding commenced at 9:45 a.m. with a short address by the State Historian, Walter Woodward.  He identified the Old State House, located at 800 Main Street, Hartford, as a court location from 1794, when the building opened, to 1866. The Old State House and predecessor buildings on this location represent the core site of Connecticut democracy. It was here that the world’s first written constitution–The Fundamental Orders–was composed and the Hartford Convention of 1815, supporting the Federalist Party, was held.

The Supreme Court considered several important appeals in the building. These included an opinion of 1834 exonerating Prudence Crandall, who had been convicted of a state criminal law making illegal the giving of instruction to young black women. The Court also issued one of the first cases allowing judicial review of a statute in Symsbury Case, Kirby 444 (1785). And it granted a writ of habeas corpus, essentially freeing a slave brought to this state by her Georgia slave master; because of her residency here, she became free. Jackson v. Bullock, 12 Conn. 38 (1837). State historian Woodward concluded by observing that the Supreme Court, like all appellate courts, addresses legal, not factual issues, and arrives at decisions relying on analysis and precedent. View display poster

At 10 a.m., the Supreme Court session commenced. Chief Justice Chase Rogers noted the historic significance of the three arguments today and thanked Sally Whipple of the Old State House for the assistance regarding the Old State House location.

The case argued at the Old State House was State v. Richards, SC 18370, on certification from 113 Conn. App. 823 (2009), affirming with a dissent, a Fairfield Superior Court criminal proceeding , Docket No. F02B-CR06-0214303-S, in which a conditional plea of nolo contendere was entered. The attorney for Richards, the appellant, was Mary Beattie Schairer, a Special Public Defender, and the attorney for the appellee, State of Connecticut, was Laurie Feldman, a Special Assistant State’s Attorney. View CT-N Video

Photos from Old State House - click to see large versionThe basic facts of the case were that police stationed in an area of Bridgeport known for illegal drug sales had observed, at 1:30 a.m., a parked automobile with Vermont license plates having three occupants. Then the police stopped a woman who had first approached the automobile; she told the police that she had observed a weapon on the front seat of the automobile as well as drug paraphernalia. No further efforts were made by the police to memorialize anything about the woman. Instead, the police immediately searched the automobile, found the items as seen by the woman, and arrested Richards.

There were two issues in the appeal as raised during the oral argument before the justices. The first was whether the woman should be classified as any type of “informant,” thereby triggering the requirements imposed upon police searches relying on informant information. The second issue was whether the woman, called a “mystery woman” by the dissent in the Appellate Court, 113 Conn. App. 842, had sufficient reliability, assuming that she was a “citizen informant.”

After the Court recessed, the attorneys remained to answer questions from the audience, mostly composed of students from Hartford High School with teacher, Attorney Jeffrey Tager. The questions centered both on the manner in which the attorneys undertook oral argument and the substance of the case. The attorneys discussed techniques of reacting to the Court’s questions. On the issue of searches, they broadened their answers beyond the facts of the case to discuss searches by administrators or the police of student lockers. 

Old Judiciary Room (Part 2) >>


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