Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to address you today. These are challenging times for all of us, including the Judicial Branch. And no one better understands just how challenging these times have been than our Governor, who we are honored to have here today. As an attorney and former prosecutor, he also has a keen grasp of the issues that the court system faces and we have greatly appreciated all that he has done on our behalf.
I am also especially grateful to outgoing CBA President Barry Hawkins for all of the outstanding work he did this year, both on behalf of the bar and the courts and, finally, I would be remiss if I did not thank your executive director, Alice Bruno, for her tireless work on behalf of the CBA.
At the outset, I want to mention that I am thrilled that the Honorable Paul J. Knierim, the Probate Court Administrator, is this year’s recipient of the Henry J. Naruk Award. When I appointed Judge Knierim to this position in 2008, I was confident that he would be an outstanding administrator to lead the probate courts through a complicated restructuring and I have to say it was one of the best decisions we have made as an administration to choose him. You have also made an excellent choice today.
When I addressed you last year, I spent the bulk of my time talking about how the practice of law is changing and the influx of self-represented parties. Along those lines, much of the message focused on what I hoped you would do for the courts, in terms of pro bono service. Let me just say, your response has been overwhelming and has already made a difference.
This year, I want to change course -- and talk about what you should expect from us.
Put simply: not only do you but also we, need to take a hard look at the way we do business, particularly in the area of civil justice. It is no exaggeration to say that civil law, as we know it, is a very different animal today than it was just a decade ago.
Late last year, the Connecticut Bar Foundation sponsored a symposium on the vanishing jury trial where statistics demonstrated that, in fact, judgments after a jury trial have decreased by almost 40 percent since 2004-05.
You might wonder what the data shows for court trials. Well, what it shows is a trend in the opposite direction. Since 2004-05, the number of cases that went to judgment after the commencement of a court trial has increased more than 27 percent.
To put the data in further context, the total number of civil cases disposed of, without any trial at all, have increased 36 percent since 2004-05.
So, we have the numbers in front of us, and the trend is clear: civil jury trials are vanishing, and the manner in which business is conducted in courts is changing. Coupled with that, the Judicial Branches across the country are continuing to hear: the court system remains too expensive, too cumbersome and too slow. And even if you haven’t uttered those complaints yourselves, then I’m certain your clients have on occasion.
Interestingly, for a period of time the business community moved much of its dispute resolution to private arbitration. They are now indicating a willingness to come back if an effective and predictable mechanism to resolve disputes is in place. For instance, instead of arbitration clauses in contracts they are starting to include courtside trials without juries as a mechanism for dispute resolution. The reason for this is they have found arbitrations to be increasingly expensive and, even more importantly, unpredictable because of a lack of precedent.
And, although our court system is founded on tradition and precedent for a very good reason, we still need to find ways to remain relevant and responsive to the people we serve. In other words, if we are to retain the trust and confidence of the general public – and your clients – then we must continue to evolve and work on better ways of providing justice.
I’m happy to report that we are making progress. Through the work of many people – including many of you in this room – we have recently revised and enhanced the Judicial Branch’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Program.
The program is limited to civil non-family cases, and parties may now directly schedule a meeting with a judge or they may complete and e-file a court form that is available online. Previously, as many of you likely experienced yourselves, attorneys had to fax a request to a central office to schedule a mediation session. In addition, a list of judges who are participating in the ADR program is now available on the website, and the program’s webpage has also been redesigned.
While a new program, I can tell you that the response from the bar so far has been very positive. Attorneys have said the new process makes it easier to schedule matters, and they like the ability to e-file the Judicial Branch form or to directly schedule a matter with a judge or staff. They report that parties receive a quicker response, and matters can be scheduled promptly and efficiently. The Judicial Branch is fully committed to this program, as evidenced by the 28 participating judges.
We are also working towards a move to individual calendaring beginning with a pilot program whereby one judge is assigned to a case from start to finish. This is in addition to the already existing complex litigation docket.
In the Waterbury Judicial District, we’ve implemented an individual calendaring program, for civil non-family cases filed after Jan. 2, 2013. There are currently three individual calendaring judges, and as of June 6, 600 civil cases have been assigned to those judges. The program is available for all civil cases, except those matters involving property, contract collections, administrative appeals, eminent domain and receivership.
One important aspect of the program is that whenever possible the individual calendaring judge who oversees the cases during discovery and scheduling will also be assigned to the trial of the matter.
Once we have worked out the kinks, my goal is to expand individual calendaring elsewhere. Our goal is that this program will result in efficient case management and scheduling, and a greater understanding by judges of the facts and issues in a particular case.
Another change we have made is having a specialized land use docket overseen by Judge Marshall Berger. The goal of this special docket is to make sure that these cases are receiving individualized and efficient oversight so they can move along quickly.
Last Friday, the judges of the Superior Court approved another initiative which will be a pilot program for limited scope representation in family cases. This type of program has proven successful in other states, benefiting both lawyers and individuals, and we hope it will work well in Connecticut.
Finally, we plan to have a series of summits over the next several months with the leadership of various bar groups, solo practitioners, representatives from smaller firms and the private business sector to talk about other changes to the civil system in order to receive your suggestions about how we can do all of this better.
From there, we will develop a plan to reform civil litigation in a way that ensures access while at the same time better meeting the needs of you and your clients without sacrificing justice.
Before sitting down, I would like to thank one more person in this room. Chief Court Administrator Barbara Quinn, whom you just honored last year with the Henry J. Naruk Award, is retiring as Chief Court Administrator in a few months, and it seems fitting to conclude with a few remarks about her.
As Chief Justice, I’ve relied on Judge Quinn to manage the day-to-day operations of an organization that has approximately 4,000 employees, a budget of about $515 million for FY 14 and more than 40 courthouses throughout the state where tens of thousands of cases are handled annually.
Keep in mind, too, the difficult economic situation Judge Quinn has weathered for the last five years, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Throughout it all, Judge Quinn has had to make difficult and unpopular decisions. At the same time, she worked hard at the State Capitol to advocate for the Branch so that we would have adequate funds to fulfill our constitutional mandate.
For those lucky enough to have worked with her, you know that a large part of Judge Quinn’s success is due to her ability to forge positive relationships with people, including many of you here. She is known for her integrity and someone who keeps her word. Because of these traits, Judge Quinn has worked effectively with the CBA, the Legislature, the Executive Branch and other professional organizations. The results have benefited the bench, the bar and, most importantly, the people we serve.
Did I mention to you that Judge Quinn also is modest? Well, she is, and I suspect that she’s about ready to crawl under her seat if I don’t stop talking about her. So, I would like to conclude with a huge thank you, Barbara, for all that you’ve done -- as my stalwart and outstanding chief court administrator and most importantly, as my loyal and treasured friend.
And to all of you, thank you for inviting me to address you today. It has been an honor.