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Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers
Speech given at the
Connecticut Bar Association’s Annual Meeting
June 18, 2007

Good afternoon. I want to thank you for this opportunity to address you, and promise to keep my comments brief. Josh Billings, a 19th century American humorist, once said, “There's a great power in words, if you don't hitch too many of them together.” I couldn’t agree more.

Just last week, I had the pleasure of participating in my first swearing in of our latest group of new attorneys. I was struck by two things as I shook the hands of these new admittees – first, how young they all looked, and second, the sense of enthusiasm and optimism in the room. I think that this bodes well for the future of our legal profession. I found the entire experience to be gratifying, made all the more so by the participation of organizations such as yours, the Connecticut Bar Association. On behalf of the Judicial Branch, I want to thank you for all that you do to capably represent your clients and to support our state courts and judges. I look forward to not only continuing but also strengthening this productive partnership.
 

 

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Hon. Chase T. Rogers
Hon. Chase T. Rogers   

I also want to thank our judges for the work they do, especially those men and women on the front line of our Superior courts. These judges are talented, smart, hard-working, and well aware of their duties as constitutional officers to maintain a level playing field. Some of the cases they deal with are emotionally wrenching for the parties involved, and people sometimes get upset with our judges, even though the judge has clearly made the proper decision based on the facts of a particular case and the rule of law. And as you know, there usually is little the judge can say in his or her own defense. So to all of the members of the CBA who have stepped up to the plate to support our judges under these circumstances by helping educate the public, please know that your efforts are greatly appreciated by the bench.

The past year has been one of great change at the Judicial Branch. Let me say up front that I believe our state court system is among the best in the country. That does not mean, however, we cannot do better. Our judiciary has already made changes that have greatly enhanced openness, transparency and accountability. I am committed to making these changes work and to continue exploring new ways to meet our mission and provide the best public service possible.

Equally important is our obligation to meet the complexities of the 21st century judiciary head-on, so that we can craft workable solutions to the challenges before us.

To this end, we are in the process of developing various projects and programs to promote our tradition of judicial excellence and to assess public trust in our courts. Among our initial projects is the formation of a Public Service and Trust Commission, chaired by Appellate Court Judge Alexandra DiPentima. The job of the commission is twofold: Number One, to assess where we are in our stated mission, which is, to resolve matters in a fair, timely, efficient and open manner; and Number Two, to create a strategic plan to assist the Judicial Branch in its mission.

The assessment will include examining public perceptions of our state judicial system and hearing from those working within the Judicial Branch on such issues as the physical and logistic accessibility of our courts; the fairness of treatment in all matters and as to all persons; and the efficiency and competence in Judicial Branch job performance.

We plan to ask you as members of the bar to have a significant role in this ambitious project. You are among our most “frequent fliers,” so to speak, and I do not want you to be shy about expressing your opinions. We plan to hear from you about what you think works well and what you think might work better. There will be a variety of ways to provide your input, since the commission will rely on information gathered from surveys based on qualitative and quantitative research, fact-finding sessions and public forums. The commission then will put together recommendations for a short- and long-term strategic plan for the branch. Once these recommendations are approved, I anticipate that we will have an action-oriented strategic plan that, when implemented, will make a difference in people’s lives.

Another initiative is our effort to better prepare the talented individuals who come from your ranks to become judges. With our latest group of new judges, we started a structured and comprehensive mentoring program, under the very able leadership of veteran Judge Lynda Munro. As the introduction to the new mentoring handbook says, “The mentor program assists novice judges in gaining necessary skills, in developing an awareness of the complexities of their responsibilities and in utilizing the full resources of the Judicial Branch.”

A pool of about 20 seasoned judges is available for the program, and each new judge has been assigned to a specific mentor to work with on a one-to-one basis. Duties of the mentors will range from providing feedback on a new judge’s performance through courtroom observation to discussions regarding demeanor, clarity of rulings, and where to get information and find resources. I am very proud of this initiative and the work that’s gone into it. I am also grateful to the very capable, talented and energetic judges who we have asked and who have agreed to serve as mentors.

Of course, I’m sure you realize the advantages of such a program to the bar. In fact, I believe that while the new judges will gain greatly from this program, it is the bar, your clients and the public at large who will be the ultimate benefactors.

It is also my hope that over the years, the mentoring program has the opportunity to prepare more men and women from diverse communities. As you know, the nomination and selection of judges rightfully falls to the executive and legislative branches. But I firmly believe that the judicial branch can participate more fully in opportunities to attract minorities to the bar, and then, we hope, to the bench. We are going to ask you to play an integral role as we attempt to do this, and I look forward to working with you to craft initiatives that will accomplish what I am certain is a shared goal.

One of the areas I am concerned about is the rising number of defalcations involving attorneys of some years. The victims of such conduct have been compensated by the clients’ security fund. But the number of such claims continues to rise. The judiciary, by appointing trustees to handle the lawyers’ remaining work, has always moved to protect the public concerning these matters. Yet preventive measures to assist such lawyers before their conduct escalates to the degree that it causes such public harm have been scarce.

At a recent meeting with bar leaders, I learned that experience with past defalcations shows that there are early warning signs, demonstrated by affected lawyers’ conduct. In order to alert judges to this problem and to aid in prevention, we will be providing information to our judges regarding the bar’s program on Lawyers Concerned For Lawyers. The distribution of this information will occur next week at the annual Judges’ Institute. We are also designing a longer-term program for sitting judges and for those newly appointed in the hopes that the judiciary can participate in early preventive measures. We hope to continue to work with bar leaders on this effort.

That leads me to my final point. I want you to know that I am here to listen to your comments and concerns. I hope that you will not hesitate to contact me. My door is open. Please take advantage of that. As Henry Ford once said, "Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." I look forward to our shared success.

 

 

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