Connecticut Supreme Court

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Connecticut Supreme Court
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Court information
Justices:   7
Founded:   1784
Salary
Chief:  $176,000
Associates:  $163,000
Judicial selection
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   8 years
Active justices

Chase Rogers  •  Richard Palmer  •  Peter Zarella  •  Richard A. Robinson  •  Carmen E. Espinosa  •  Dennis G. Eveleigh  •  Andrew McDonald  •  

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A tour of the Connecticut Supreme Court.

The Connecticut Supreme Court is the state's court of last resort. Although the court was established in 1784, the Connecticut Constitution which defined the separation of powers in the state's government, was not completed until 1818. Any significant changes in the court must be made by constitutional amendment. The court is made up of one chief justice and six associate justices. During a two-year period, the court meets eight times in sessions which last approximately two weeks.[1]

Justices

Justices serve for eight-year terms. They must be renominated in order to serve additional terms. The chief justice may be selected by the commission, nominated and approved by the General Assembly. However, the Governor may also select an associate justice to serve as chief justice. If an associate justice is elevated to the position of chief justice they will serve the remaining term for their previous position as chief justice.[2] According to Section 51-1b of the Connecticut General Statutes, the chief justice of the supreme court is the head administrator of the state's judicial branch.[1]

The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected by
Chief Justice Chase Rogers2007-2015Gov. Mary Jodi Rell
Justice Richard Palmer1993-2017Gov. Lowell P. Weicker, Jr.
Justice Peter Zarella2001-2017Gov. John G. Rowland
Associate justice Richard A. Robinson2013-2022Gov. Dan Malloy
Justice Carmen E. Espinosa2013-2021Gov. Dan Malloy
Justice Dennis G. Eveleigh2010-2018Gov. Mary Jody Rell
Justice Andrew McDonald2013-2021Gov. Dan Malloy


Qualifications

Minimum qualifications for appointment to the court are:

  • Under age 70 at time of appointment
  • Licensed to practice law in the state
  • State resident

Judicial selection

See also: Judicial selection in Connecticut

Judges are chosen using the commission selection, political appointment method. The Judicial Selection Commission forwards a list of candidates to the Governor. The Governor of Connecticut nominates a candidate, who must be confirmed by the Connecticut General Assembly.

Justices on the supreme court must retire when they reach the mandatory retirement age of 70. However, after reaching 70, a justice may continue to serve as a judge trial referee (also known as a state referee) for the rest of their life. However, they must be renominated, reappointed and continue to meet certain conditions.[3]

Retention

A justice must be renominated by the Governor to continue serving on the court after their term expires. In order to be approved by the General Assembly, a nominee must appear before the senate judiciary committee at a hearing. The judiciary committee will make a recommendation and then a vote is taken on whether to approve the nominee to serve another term.

Ethics

Removal of justices

Justices may be removed in one of three ways:

  • Judges may impeached by the Connecticut House of Representatives with the approval of two-thirds of the Connecticut State Senate.
  • The Governor may remove a judge or justice with two-thirds approval from each house of the Connecticut General Assembly.
  • Following a misconduct investigation by the Connecticut Judicial Review Council. If the investigation indicates there is probable cause the judge may be guilty of misconduct, the council conducts a hearing and makes a recommendation to the supreme court, who may then choose to suspend or remove the judge from office.[4]

Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Connecticut earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.[5]

The Connecticut Supreme Court building

Cases

Jurisdiction

The Connecticut Supreme Court generally has appellate jurisdiction over cases decided in lower courts within the state, including the Connecticut Appellate Court.

The court has mandatory jurisdiction over the following types of cases:

  • civil appeals
  • capital criminal appeals
  • criminal appeals
  • judicial discipline matters

The court has discretionary jurisdiction over:

  • civil appeals
  • non-capital criminal appeals
  • administrative agency cases

Caseloads

Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2012 157 199
2011 145 191
2010 134 207
2009 232 220
2008 262 256
2007 223 229

[6][7]

How cases are decided by the court

On any given day, a panel of five justices will be assigned hear cases. At the discretion of the chief judge, the court may sit en banc to hear a case.[8]

Parties may not present witnesses or evidence. The court decides cases using court records from the lower courts, briefs prepared by each party and oral argument before the court. During the oral argument, attorneys for the parties may present information from their briefs. The justices may also question attorneys for the parties during oral argument.

Except for matters heard by the probate court, all cases heard by the supreme court begin in superior court. The court reviews cases from the superior court to assure no errors have been made in interpreting or applying the law. Some decisions made by the appellate court may also be reviewed.[8]

Although an appeal of most superior court cases must first be filed in the appellate court, according to state law, some types of cases are appealed directly to the supreme court. These include:

  • cases involving a potentially invalid portion of the state constitution or an invalid state statute
  • cases where a person has been convicted of a capital felony

However, the supreme court has the authority to take up any case which is filed in the appellate court.[8]

Practice guidelines

The Connecticut Practice Book is available on the judicial branch website. First created in 1978, the book has undergone many revisions since that time. It includes information on: rules of professional conduct, the code of judicial conduct, rules for the superior court and rules of appellate court procedure. The book also contains an appendix of forms and an index of judicial branch forms. The most recent official version of the Connecticut Code of Evidence is also available on the judicial branch website. Both may be printed for free, and printed versions are available for a fee.[9]

Visiting the court

Visitors can take a tour of the courthouse and observe oral arguments. The Connecticut Judicial Branch provides a schedule of when cases will be heard by the court. The Supreme Court is located at 231 Capitol Avenue in Hartford.[10]

Notable cases

Connecticut lawyers can't be sued for fraudulent activity in court

May 23, 2013
See also: Courtroom Weekly: From gun laws to school searches

The Connecticut Supreme Court cited the doctrine of "absolute immunity" in ruling that lawyers cannot be sued for fraud based on their conduct in court cases.

Bob Simms, a former NFL player and founder of Simms Capital Management Inc., has been in an ongoing legal battle over divorce proceedings with his ex-wife, Donna Simms, for 30 years. Bob recently tried to sue Donna and her lawyers for withholding information about approximately $360,000 in inheritance money that she received in 2006 and 2008. A court order brought the facts of the inheritance to the surface in 2008, but a lower court judge ruled that the information had been improperly withheld.

At the Supreme Court, however, the justices were focused on a different point: whether or not Donna's lawyers were liable for the alleged fraud. They ruled 5-1 on May 10 that the lawyers could not be sued for fraud, citing the old doctrine of absolute immunity, as well as decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts.

Absolute immunity started in medieval England. It was created as a way to encourage free speaking during court proceedings without fear of future lawsuits. Justice Peter Zarella, in the majority's opinion, wrote,

This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.

The mere possibility of such (fraud) claims, which could expose attorneys to harassing and expensive litigation, would be likely to inhibit their freedom in making good faith evidentiary decisions and representations and, therefore, negatively affect their ability to act as zealous advocates for their clients."[11]
Justice Richard Palmer, the lone dissenter, argued that the decision was "unduly protectionist of attorneys."[11]

Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health

October 28, 2008
In August 2004, eight gay and lesbian couples, living in the state, sued after being denied marriage licenses by the acting town clerk in Madison, Connecticut. The couples claimed their license applications were denied because they were same-sex couples, which violated their state constitutional rights to due process and equal protection and their rights to intimate expression and association. While their lawsuit was pending, the Connecticut General Assembly passed PA 05-10, commonly referred to as a "civil union law," which stated "marriage" was a term to be used for couples of the opposite sex, and the term "civil unions" was for couples of the same sex. The Connecticut Supreme Court held, by a vote of 4-3, that the state constitution's Equal Protection Clause prohibits the state from denying same-sex couples the right to marry. According to the majority, Connecticut's civil union law was also valid.[12]

Susette Kelo v. City of New London

June 23, 2005
The court defined the primary issue of the case as whether under state and federal constitutional law, public use clauses permit cities and towns to exercise the power of eminent domain for the purpose of allowing an economic development plan to go forward. Under the authority of eminent domain, the city of New London seized the properties of homeowners and sold it to private developers. The city said developing the land would create jobs and increase tax revenues. Kelo and others homeowners whose property was seized sued the city of New London in state court. The property owners argued the city violated the Fifth Amendment's takings clause, which guaranteed the government would not take private property for public use without fair compensation. The Connecticut Supreme Court found in favor of the city. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court who affirmed the Connecticut Supreme Court's ruling. The Court said the city was not simply taking the property of private citizens to sell to private developers. Instead, they seized the property to sell as part of an economic development plan which would ultimately benefit the city.[13]

Griswold v. Connecticut

June 7, 1965
A Connecticut law dating back to 1879 made it illegal for anyone to use contraceptives. For nine days in November 1961, Estelle Griswold, who was the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and Dr. C. Lee Buxton, a doctor and professor at Yale Medical School, provided contraceptive devices and information on how to prevent pregnancy at a clinic they opened. Griswold and the doctor were each found guilty of violating the statute and fined $100. The lower court's ruling was affirmed by both the circuit appellate court and the Connecticut Supreme Court (which was still known as the "Court of Errors" at the time of the decision.) However, on appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision, and ultimately found the 1879 statute violated the right to privacy in marriage, which is granted under the Bill of Rights.[14]

Political outlook

See also: Political ideology of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of State Supreme Court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Connecticut was given a Campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Connecticut received a score of 0.05. Based on the justices selected, Connecticut was the 21st most conservative court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.[15]

History

  • 1784: Supreme Court of Errors is established as Connecticut's highest appellate court, with the power to review lower court decisions by the filing of a writ of error. (During the time period between 1711 and 1784, the General Assembly was responsible for reviewing decisions made in lower courts.)
  • 1818: Connecticut's Constitution is adopted and specifies three different government branches. The Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors and the Connecticut Superior Court are established. The General Assembly is given the power to establish other lower courts.
  • 1965: In 1965, the court's name was changed from the Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors to the Connecticut Supreme Court.[16]
  • 1982: An amendment to the state Constitution creates the appellate court to reduce the caseload of the state's supreme court.[17]

Notable firsts

  • Joel Hinman is the longest serving justice. He served on the court for 28 years.
  • Raymond E. Baldwin served as both the Governor of the state (and a supreme court justice).[16]
  • Ellen Ash Peters was the first female justice appointed to the court in 1978. She was also the first woman to serve as chief justice, in 1984.[18]
  • Robert Glass was the first African-American appointed to serve on the court in 1987. He retired from the court in 1992. The juvenile courthouse in Waterbury, Connecticut is named for him.[19]


Past justices

See also

External links

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Connecticut Supreme Court Website
  2. American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Connecticut," accessed March 25, 2014
  3. Connecticut General Assembly, "CHAPTER 872* JUDGES," accessed June 5, 2013
  4. American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial selection: Removal of Judges," accessed March 25, 2014
  5. Center for Public Integrity "State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information," December 5, 2013
  6. Connecticut Court System, "Biennial Report 2008-2010, Supreme Court Caseload Trends" (scroll to page 40)
  7. Connecticut Court System, "Biennial Report 2006-2008, Supreme Court Caseload Trends" (scroll to page 36)
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, "Organization of Connecticut Courts, Supreme Court," accessed March 25, 2014
  9. State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, "Connecticut Practice Book," accessed March 25, 2014
  10. State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, "Publications, Booklet about Connecticut's Courts," accessed March 25, 2014
  11. 11.0 11.1 The Wall Street Journal, "Conn. court: Lawyers can't be sued for fraud," May 17, 2013
  12. Supreme Court of Connecticut, "Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health," decided October 28, 2008, accessed March 20, 2014
  13. Oyez, "Kelo v. City of New London," accessed March 25, 2014
  14. Legal Information Institute, "Griswold v. Connecticut," accessed March 20, 2014
  15. Stanford University "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
  16. 16.0 16.1 Wikipedia, "Connecticut Supreme Court," accessed March 31, 2014
  17. State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, "History of the Courts," accessed March 18, 2014
  18. Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, Breaking New Ground Report, "Women Making History 1777-2013," accessed March 20, 2014
  19. State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, "Waterbury juvenile matters courthouse to be named after the Honorable Robert D. Glass," May 16, 2008 accessed March 20, 2014
  20. Connecticut Supreme Court Historical Society, "Justices of the Connecticut Supreme Court," accessed March 20, 2014
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