Senate President Pro Tem Sullivan, Speaker Lyons, Governor Rell and
distinguished members of the House and Senate, my colleagues on the
Supreme Court, ladies and gentlemen:
Thank you for your warm reception. I welcome the opportunity to update
you on the State of Connecticut's judiciary, and to talk to you about some
of the challenges that I see ahead.
When I took the oath of office of Chief Justice in January, I inherited
a legacy of excellent leadership from my predecessors. There is a
continuity of vision that binds us. The mission of the Judicial Branch is
now, as it has been since the inception of Connecticut courts, the fair
and timely resolution of disputes.
As we have pushed to fulfill that mission, you have been there, in good
times and in bad, with your ongoing support of our needs. The
beneficiaries of that excellent and respectful working relationship are,
of course, our mutual constituency, the people of Connecticut.
I can report to you that the State of the Judicial Branch is strong.
Due in large part to the efforts of Governor John G. Rowland and this
Legislature, Connecticut now has a Judiciary that is supported as well or
better than it ever has been.
The Biennial Report of the Judicial Branch that was provided to
you at the beginning of the session gives in depth statistical caseload
information on our courts. I will not reiterate the specific numbers
contained therein. Instead, today I would like to highlight three specific
areas of branch progress.
It is no secret that the backlog of cases in our courts has been a
thorn in our side. The possible reasons for that backlog are important
only to the extent that they point the way to solutions. We are not living
in our parents' world, and the cases that come before the courts reflect
the complexity of our society. For that reason, matters inevitably require
more time to resolve, and the dockets have at times approached gridlock.
We have been fortunate during the last biennium to have nineteen new
judgeships added to our roster. I am hopeful that this additional number
will not only reduce the current pending caseload, but will also alleviate
the inevitable stress faced by an overworked trial bench.
The judicial salary increases that you approved during the past
legislative session will also go a long way toward attracting the best
legal minds for judicial openings. We thank you for recognizing the need
for additional judges and the importance of fair compensation. For our
part, we will continue to maximize the resources already in place in order
to provide as much support as possible for the entire Judiciary.
The second area of progress that I would like to briefly touch on is
facilities, the bricks and mortar, if you will, of our courts. In our
society, the physical foundation of a justice system is sometimes
overlooked. Too often, the buildings that house our courts and support
offices take a back seat during times of budgetary constraint. We thank
you for having recognized that facilities are not merely buildings, but
the public face of Connecticut's justice system. It is crucial that they
be good, safe, modern facilities, not only for our citizens to bring or
defend their disputes, but also for those fellow citizens whom we ask to
fulfill their civic duty as jurors.
Over the past several years, the Judicial Branch has received much
needed bond allotments for infrastructure improvements on our buildings.
It is our responsibility to remain vigilant about the security of those
buildings. In unfortunate recognition of the more violence-prone society
in which we live, the Branch has invested extensively in security
improvements, such as weapon detection stations, electronic security
systems and cell block modifications.
On the new construction front, since 1998 we have completed much-needed
courthouses in New Britain, Waterbury, and Danielson, and new courthouses
for Juvenile Matters in Willimantic, Waterford, and Torrington. Those new
buildings have allowed for the consolidation of Judicial services, and in
many instances have helped to revitalize the city neighborhoods in which
they are located.
Renovation of existing structures has also played a major role in our
facilities progress. The Hartford Community Court Session, one of the
nation's leading models, is housed in a newly renovated building. As you
know, that court was established in 1998 as a partnership with the city of
Hartford and the community. When members of the community or visitors from
other parts of the country step through the doors of this clean, modern
facility, they recognize the importance that we attach to this different
kind of court.
We are on schedule to open the long-awaited Stamford courthouse in
December of this year. A state-of-the-art building, it will not only more
than double the number of courtrooms and hearing rooms, but in that
Judicial District it will also house all agencies under one roof, thereby,
once again, helping to make more efficient the handling of cases. Also
included in the building will be a two-floor law library, especially
helpful for the Bar and public.
To accommodate the severely cramped appellate court, renovation of 75
Elm Street in Hartford is slated to commence by the beginning of next
year. We anticipate that the project, now in the architect design phase,
will be completed by late 2003.
Because major building projects stretch for a period of years, it has
always been crucial to continue with timely construction schedules.
Governor Rowland and this Legislature have understood that, even though
tempting to delay when times are difficult, we must push on.
Since January I have visited 16 of the 48 courthouse locations we have.
I only found one area seriously lacking in facilities, and that was in the
Litchfield county G.A. and J.D. courthouses. However, a new courthouse is
in the planning stages for that area. Hopefully, whatever problems are
involved with this project can be overcome quickly so we can get on with
the construction of that courthouse. I plan to visit the remaining
courthouse locations in the months ahead.
You are intimately familiar with the last area about which I would like
to give you a status update—Judicial Marshals. On December 1, 2000
approximately 1000 Special Deputy Sheriffs became employees of the
The most important aspect of the ensuing transition was to maintain the
smooth running of the daily business of the courts while keeping the
highest level of security. The Hon. G. Sarsfield Ford has been appointed
Chief Administrative Judge for Judicial Marshal services. Temporary Chief
Judicial Marshals have been put in place to ensure the necessary framework
of administration as we move forward expeditiously to complete the
integration of our new employees.
To date, the Supreme Court has approved an administrative structure for
the courthouse marshals, and collective bargaining negotiations are
underway relative to the marshals. We are in the process now of hiring a
permanent staff to supervise this operation.
Training is an important component of our planning. With the potential
addition of new hires, new Marshal training is an immediate need. The
process of updating and improving the former Sheriff's department
curriculum has begun. Annual in-service training of the Marshals will
continue, carried out by a cadre of Marshals who have been certified to
teach specific topics, like management of aggressive behavior. Marshals
will be included in both court operations and Branch-wide training
programs such as public service excellence and studies in diversity.
An analysis of current funding has been completed. It is assured that
we will operate within the appropriation.
There will always be, however, numerous challenges on the horizon.
We must continue the reduction of the pending caseload. Once matters
come within our purview, their expeditious movement through our system
becomes our problem. We have taken a multi-faceted approach to find
First, with your authorization of additional judges, a separate Civil
Complex Litigation docket has been added in five strategic locations (New
Britain, Stamford, Waterbury, Norwich and Tolland). This initiative allows
actions that involve multiple parties and extensive first impression
issues to be removed from the pending civil caseload and treated
separately, with the necessary close judicial supervision. Their removal
further allows the regular Civil docket to continue on to trial and
disposition without interruption. Second, we have begun the implementation
of recommendations from the Civil Commission, which was established last
year to improve the process for adjudication of civil cases. Issues such
as Short Calendar motion procedures are being addressed, and the hope is
that the outcome of this committee's work will be to make the lives of
parties to litigation and the practicing attorneys a bit easier.
In the Criminal area, an initiative was undertaken last year to attack
the backlog of pending murder cases in our busiest Judicial Districts. A
substantial number of additional judges and resources were deployed into
those criminal courts, first in Hartford, and then into New Haven and
Bridgeport. The result was a substantial decrease in the number of our
most serious criminal cases. I am pleased to note that there has been no
significant increase since that time. To further improve the process for
adjudication of criminal cases, I have recently established the Criminal
Commission. Its fifteen members, consisting of practicing private
attorneys, judges, prosecutors, and public defenders will be in a position
to make knowledgeable recommendations as to procedure changes as well as
rule and statutory changes so as to make our courts more amenable to the
litigants and attorneys who use them.
We must continue to respond to the needs of Connecticut's crime
victims. Our Office of Victim Services provides financial compensation,
information and referrals, and victim assistance. The Branch remains
committed to guaranteeing the rights of victims, and recognizes that
society's increasing awareness of their position in the criminal justice
system will inevitably lead to a greater demand for our services.
We must continue to develop innovative responses to meet the growing
demand in the juvenile justice area. We have expanded our juvenile
alternative sanctions programs in community-based day and residential
programs. We have juvenile justice centers in 12 communities that link
juveniles and their families with existing local services. We have
court-based assessment centers to provide sufficient information so that a
judge can determine the best possible placement for a child. We have
greater availability than ever of outpatient substance abuse and mental
heath treatment services. But we only have to read a newspaper or listen
to a newscast to know that more must be done for our at-risk children.
To accomplish all that we must, we need to make use of the
technological advances within our grasp. In the world of the Internet, the
web, the e-everything, to stand still is to lose ground. Technology is not
an end in itself, but a tool to perform our responsibilities quicker and
better. We will continue to use every one of the tools at our disposal.
As I carry on my stewardship, I thank you again, on behalf of the
Judicial Branch for your considerable support. I am confident that as we
go forward into this next century, we can continue to rely on your
thoughtful deliberation of our needs and the financial support to meet