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Remarks of Attorney Norm Janes
Past President, Connecticut Bar Association
Supreme Court Law Day Ceremony
May 1, 2008

Members of the Court, honorees, ladies and gentlemen. I am honored to be here on this special occasion as a substitute for Bill Prout, President of the Connecticut Bar Association. He sends his regrets that he cannot be here to share in this important event personally.
 

 

Bill especially wanted me to extend his congratulations to all of you being honored here this morning and I heartedly join him. Those who carry the burden of promoting diversity in our profession deserve all the accolades, encouragement and support we can provide.  At last week's annual meeting of the George Crawford black Bar Association Connecticut Treasurer, Denise Nappier, noted that diversity was not merely a matter of preferred social policy, it is a business necessity. As our society generally grows more diverse this is a message which is important for lawyers and the legal community to understand. Since a lawyer's role often is to interpret her client’s actions and interests to the world and to educate his clients about how the world operates, it is imperative that we have the cultural competence to have those conversations with all clients. A diverse profession is the key to making that possible.

When Bill Prout asked if I could stand in for him he told me that I needed to make sure my remarks included not only congratulations to the award recipients, but some discussion of the importance of the rule of law, of diversity, of the need of an independent judiciary and its corollary a government with separate and co-equal branches of collaboration between the bench in the bar, and, if possible, a mention of the Chief Justice’s Commission on Public Service and Trust. I was informed by Melissa Farley that I had to do all this in five minutes. Since these are concepts that will be familiar to most of us in this room, it may be possible to meet the challenge….. as long as no one looks at their watch. 

It will not be a surprise to any of you that the Rule of Law really is a thread that binds all of these ideals and ideas together. Diversity, for instance, does not flourish where the Rule of Law does not prevail. Minorities, whether racial, political religious or otherwise, have no rights and do not participate at all. This is true whether the tyrant is a single despot or a controlling political or cultural "majority". In fact, in countries that do not have a tradition of adherence to the rule of law, not only is there is no celebration of those who promote and foster diversity or the rights of minorities, there is no Law Day.

The Rule of Law doesn't sustain itself – it must have a champion; a protector. In most societies that role falls to the Judiciary. It certainly does in our country. Courts fulfill many roles in our system (Just ask the members of the Chief Justice’s Commission on Public Service and Trust who are struggling to help the Judicial Branch articulate its strategic plan). But its role as the guardian of the Rule of Law is certainly among its most profound responsibilities.

Any discussion of the role of the Judiciary in protecting the Rule of Law inevitably brings in two other of the topics on Bill’s list of instructions for this morning’s remarks: the necessity of an independent judiciary and the uniquely American concept of a balance- and separation- of governmental powers among co-equal branches of government. Since I am standing in for Bill Prout, I’d like to share some of his thought on this subject. I am quoting from his President’s Column in the April issue of the Connecticut Lawyer in which, by the way, he is discussing the work of the Public Trust and Service Commission:

“Few would take issue with the proposition that a fair and impartial judiciary is essential to our democracy. When people are polled regarding their expectations and objectives when they bring matters to court the response is straightforward and predictable: they want their matter to be heard by an impartial tribunal, on a level playing field; they want to understand their rights and obligations, and how the process will work; they want to be treated with respect; and they want to be treated fairly, and in accordance with law, by the court. That is not only their expectation, but our collective promise to them under our system of justice. To deliver on that promise, as the commission recognizes, courts must continue to be accountable-they must be responsive to the needs of the public they serve; they must be consistent in their procedures, requirements, and expectations of all participants in the judicial process; they must remain faithful to the Constitution and other law; and a must be held to the highest standards of judicial conduct. In return, however, courts are required-and must be permitted-to discharge those obligations independently, exercising appropriate judicial discretion, free of outside influence from any source. Litigants continue to bring to our courts the most controversial issues of the day, and judges remain obliged, in accordance with the law, to make difficult and often unpopular decisions. That is, and it has always been, their solemn duty. When that duty has been faithfully discharged, but the court nonetheless comes under fire for having reached in an unpopular conclusion individual lawyers-and the organized bar-must be prepared to step forward in the face of public criticism to defend the independence and integrity of the courts and to offer a balanced perspective that addresses all of the important interest at stake in any public debate. At the same time, the bar must continue to advocate the independence of the Judicial Branch as a co-equal branch of government-a basic principle of separation of powers that has assured the rule of law in this country for centuries, and has empowered the judiciary to discharge its constitutional mandate in a fashion that remains loyal to the principles of both independence and accountability.”

And since Bill’s column speaks about the role of the organized bar in assisting the Judiciary we have covered the final topic in his list. I would like, however, to impose a bit on my time limit and share a personal thought about this important topic of separation of powers. In my leadership role with the Connecticut Bar Association I have been surprised to learn that there are people in responsible positions in State Government who do not seem to understand this basic principle. I am sure that every one here today understands that the Rule of Law is embodied in our Constitutional system, whose foundation is three co-equal branches of government. But should you run into someone who does not understand that, let me suggest a very simple analogy that offers a profound lesson in civics: Consider the three legged stool. It is a simple, yet immensely utilitarian, functional, and sturdy piece of furniture. However, if the legs are not fastened securely to the seat, if one leg is longer than the others, or if one is weaker than the others, the stool becomes unstable, dangerous, and ultimately un-usable. Why should we think it would be different with a system of government that has three branches?

And now I really have exceeded my time. I am honored to have been a part of this Law Day ceremony in which we give public recognition and appreciation for the important contribution these bar leaders have made to our profession and the Judiciary. 
 

 

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