Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s Judicial Review Commission met again Tuesday to hear about the work of various subcommittees charged with outlining the current statutes, rules, and policies that prohibit access to the judicial branch.Justice Christine Keller, who co-chairs the subcommittee on Court Operations, said the subcommittee identified areas where the public is not allowed access either in practice, by statute, or the state’s Freedom of Information Act. She said if it did not come clearly under one of those headings or a specific exception is not spelled out by FOI then Court Operations, which includes the External Affairs division, the subcommittee deemed it open to public disclosure.
Keller said one of the operations that’s not currently open to the public is the executive committee of judges. She said since this committee executes primarily an administrative function it should be subject to FOI. She noted that in the past its meetings have not been publicly announced. Court records that are currently open to the public include Judicial Marshals incident reports with the exception of any incidents that would compromise court security, such as a recent malfunction of the panic buttons in courtrooms unattended by judicial marshals. She said she was surprised that juror information is a lot more public than she expected. “I don’t think it’s protective enough of jurors,” Keller opined. She said she found that a jurors name, address, and amount paid is part of the public record. Keller said in her research she found that two-thirds of the ever-evolving list of records within Court Operations is considered “accessible to the public,” and Supreme Court Justice David Borden’s Task Force has put a list up on its web site. While Keller seems to champion public disclosure of judicial records and proceedings overall, she was in favor of keeping judges evaluations from the public’s prying eyes. Keller said her concern with the evaluation forms was that they don’t cover all judges. “It’s not a fair way to evaluate a judge,” she said. She said only judges that hear trials get evaluated and thy only receive the evaluations after 25 individuals, jurors, prosecutors, defense attorneys, or parties fill them out. She said the angry person who just lost a trial fills one out and “does a number on you.” She said while she heard juvenile cases from 1996 to 2002 she didn’t receive any evaluations, then two years later she receives an evaluation that covers all six years. A discussion evolved on how the media, not the public, would then use that information if judges aren’t allowed to speak with he media to put it in perspective. Vincent Valvo, editor of the Hartford Business Journal said, this openness does not exist just for the media. He said the media are representatives for the public, but are not asking for special privileges here. He said if it hadn’t been for the Judicial Review Commission on Openness then this issue of unfairness in judicial evaluations would have never been brought forward. He said problems only get changed when “we see the problem.”