The National Center for State Courts has an archive of 2011, 2010, and previous years State of the Judiciary addresses located here.
On April 13, 2011 the Connecticut House and Senate resolved (S.J. 36) to meet in joint convention, and “That a committee of two Senators and two Representatives be appointed to invite the Honorable Chase T. Rogers, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to attend the Joint Convention and to present to the Joint Convention any communication she might be pleased to make.” S.J. 37 directed “the remarks of the Chief Justice be printed in the journals of the Senate and House of Representatives and that a sufficient number of copies be printed for general distribution”
Later the same day Chief Justice Rogers did address the Joint Convention. Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) included:
I don’t have to tell you that we are all confronting the biggest deficit in our state’s history. The Judicial Branch is anything but immune from this crisis. In fact, for the past several years, as a partner with the Executive and Legislative Branches, we have shouldered our fair share of budget cuts and reductions.
Now, the budget is before you. Although we are hoping for the best, we also must prepare for the worst, and I will tell you that we are working on contingency plans to address whatever happens going forward. I feel it is important to let you know that, if there are ultimately more significant cuts or layoffs, the branch that we know today will look very different in the future. For example, the continuation of the initiatives that I highlight over the next several minutes may not be possible.
Regardless of the resources that are available, however, I can assure you that our commitment to three basic principles will remain intact. These principles are: Number one, access; Number two, the efficient resolution of cases; and Number three, fairness.
Starting with the first principle, we must provide access to everyone regardless of race, religion, age, sex, sexual preference, disability, marital status or national origin…While its charge is broad, a key area the Commission will address is one of our court system’s biggest challenges – providing access to self represented parties. If you aren’t aware of this troubling trend, the following numbers may surprise you. In 2010, an astounding 84 percent of all family cases and 27 percent of all civil cases had at least one party who was self-represented. The numbers are close to 90 percent in housing matters.
I am happy to say that we have taken great strides in making our courthouses easier to navigate. For example, by shifting resources we now have employees available in four of our busiest courthouses to greet and direct members of the public to where they need to go immediately upon entering the building. Since January 2010, this program has assisted over 8,000 court patrons. To further assist self represented parties, our court service centers and public information desks provide assistance in completing forms and also provide lawyers and others access to computers and fax machines, as well as other resources.
Of course, we could make all of these enhancements, but if a Judicial Branch employee is not helpful, then our efforts will be futile…Therefore, we are taking a hard look at how our Branch employees interact with the public. While the majority of our employees are professional and courteous, we know we can always do better.
In addition, we now have a team of employees who pose as members of the public and regularly visit our facilities to determine whether people are being treated professionally… As you can imagine, I was a little nervous about how this program would be received by staff. Interestingly, rather than resisting these efforts, the vast majority have welcomed the input they have received as a result of this program.
I would now like to turn to our second commitment – the timely and efficient resolution of cases. You should know that our courts are facing an increase in the number of cases filed. Over the past four years, we have seen an increase in the number of civil cases added to our dockets by 37 percent…I can’t tell you scientifically that these increases are due directly to the economy, but common sense tells us that it is certainly a significant factor.
Two years ago, a report was issued in Florida entitled “The Economic Impacts of Delays in Civil Trials in Florida’s State Courts Due to Under-Funding.” This report showed that a growing population and a growing foreclosure docket combined to create a civil case backlog. More important, it showed that this development severely affected Florida’s ability to create and keep jobs. This problem could become a reality in Connecticut and it is essential that we avoid a similar situation here.
To that end, one area of extensive review has been our Complex Litigation Docket…And to ensure that Connecticut has one of the strongest complex litigation dockets in the country, the Judicial Branch is committed to assigning judges with expertise in these matters to serve on the docket and to train all judges on issues relevant to commercial and business litigation.
We are also examining our court-sponsored Alternative Dispute Resolution programs that resolve civil matters short of trial and provide an off-ramp from full-blown litigation…We also plan to institute special land use dockets with dedicated judges and staff.
Through January of this year, over 9,400 homeowners have completed [the Foreclosure Mediation Program]. Of those, 79 percent reached a resolution and 64 percent were able to stay in their homes…The U.S. Department of Justice recently highlighted our program as a successful, results-based way to address the foreclosure crisis.
While jurors are absolutely essential to our system of government, it’s frustrating to receive a jury summons and to make the necessary arrangements only to find out the night before that your presence is not required…In response, we have been working hard to ensure the number of jurors summoned reflects the court’s actual need on any given day.
Now, I would like to turn your attention to the third commitment – fairness. Toward that goal, one of the most significant changes that has occurred has been at the appellate level.
Beginning with the 2009 term, the Supreme Court changed its longstanding policy regarding how it hears cases. Before that time, most cases were heard by panels of five of the seven justices. Now, the Court sits en banc in panels of all seven justices whenever possible. We believe this change enhances the confidence of the public in the rulings of our state’s highest court.
Finally, I want to talk for a moment about our superior court judges…A courthouse truly represents a microcosm of society’s problems and the public looks to our judges every day for resolution and justice. They do not have an easy task.
And, we know that sometimes fair and just decisions can also be very unpopular. Yet, the rule of law necessarily depends on independent courts where judges make decisions based on facts and law, not popular opinion.
Unfortunately, I am aware from speaking to my colleagues in other states of efforts to remove judges from office because a particular group disagrees with a ruling that is based on an interpretation of the law.
I am pleased to report that this is not the situation in Connecticut and I want to take this opportunity to thank you, on behalf of our state justices and judges, for your unwavering support.
The bottom line is that we need judges who are not afraid to do their job – which is to apply the law to the facts at hand, without fear or favor. The stakes in a democracy are that high…I hope that from just the few examples I have spoken of today, it is evident that the Branch is looking for every way possible to improve the state courts and, therefore, sustain the public’s confidence in our judiciary.