Supreme Court Justice David Borden gave the 18 members of the Judicial Public Access Task Force less than five months to make “concrete recommendations” for public access to the courts. Supreme Court Justice David BordenIn a recent Supreme Court case, a majority of the justices voted to deny access to certain computer records and upheld the lower court’s decision that the records were part of the court’s administrative function and not public information. The Freedom of Information Commission, a party in the case, decided not to challenge the court’s 4-3 decision.Nonetheless, judges, attorneys, and members of the news media undertook Borden’s mission in its first working session Thursday where it outlined and then grouped the access issues into subject areas for three subcommittees.
The access issues that were listed on six tablets during the more than hour long brainstorming session included: What is a court record? What court proceedings should be open to the public? Should there be an appeals process for when access to records is denied? What are other states doing? What is available under the current laws? What judicial administrative records should be open and how?Judge Trial Referee, Aaron Ment, kept turning around in his seat during the meeting to consult with Hartford Courant reporter Lynne Tuohy who was in the audience. Ment offered issues that praised her reporting when he asked the question about should there be a distinction in what cases are filed and ones that are lodged, referring to the “super-sealing” of cases Tuohy and the Courant challenged in 2002. Back of Ment’s headA veteran-report, Tuohy reported last week that two judges picked to be part of the task force were replaced by Borden because they had been involved in the “super-sealing” of cases. No one knew which judges engaged in the practice of allowing the wealthy and politically connected to file lawsuits with no case numbers and no names until Tuohy reported the matter last week. The practice has since been abolished. Click here to read Tuohy’s article on the first task force meeting. There wasn’t much debate amongst the mismatched cast of characters on the task force, Thursday, however, attorney Alan Neigher of Byelas and Neigher in Westport protested when a Connecticut Networks cameraman, Francis Knize, voiced several lengthy concerns about court access after task force chairman, Supreme Court Justice Richard Palmer asked if any members of the public wished to contribute to the mostly brainstorming session. Francis KnizeNeigher opined Knize was out-of-order when he started to speak on the discourse of the judicial branch. “We’re here on our own time,” Neigher reminded the chairman. Knize accused Neigher of being out-of-order and continued. Palmer rushed Knize through his concerns by interrupting him when he felt his point had been sufficiently made. Justice Richard PalmerAt the conclusion of the first meeting, Palmer said he would place each of the members on one of the three subcommittees by Tuesday taking into consideration their preferences. The subject matter the three subcommittees will report on by Sept. 15 include access to judicial records, access to judicial meetings and administrative functions in the court, and access to judicial proceedings. Palmer said he expects the subcommittees to meet at least twice before another full task force meeting June 15. Gov. M. Jodi Rell has formed her own judicial review panel. Rell’s 18-member judicial review panel includes nine attorneys, four judges, two legislators, two members of the news media, and the attorney and former executive director of the Freedom of Information Commission. The Rell panel’s first meeting is June 1. The legislature’s Judiciary Committee will also convene in June to discuss former Supreme Court Justice William “Tocco” Sullivan’s decision to withhold the court’s 4-3 decision in the FOI case that sparked the judicial openness debate and how it cost his friend, Justice Peter Zarella, his appointment to chief justice. Since Rell’s nomination of Zarella, which he has since withdrawn, she has yet to nominate someone to the position. Judge Patrick Clifford, left, and Journal Inquirer reporter, Heather Nann Collins, right.