The Judicial Public Access Task Force heard a number of criticisms to its draft proposal Thursday evening during its second public hearing of the day. The turnout for the public hearing, more than a dozen people, was much greater than its first public hearing in August. The task force is fast approaching a Sept. 15 deadline to report on ways the Judicial Branch can make the courts, its records, and proceedings more accessible to the public in the wake of the judicial scandal involving former Chief Justice William Sullivan.
Some who attended the hearing Thursday criticized recommendations on cameras in the courtrooms, public access to criminal convictions over the Internet, and disclosure of police affidavits in cases where no probable cause is found. Others criticized monetary obstacles and access to court records. Members of the public, including members of the media are free to attend open court proceedings, but “there is no legal right of the press to televise a trial, as compared to covering a trial held in an open courtroom without the use of electronic devices,” James Papillo, the state’s Victim Advocate, wrote in his testimony to the task force. David Sunshine, who is a survivor of homicide, told the task force, “The thought of cameras in the courtroom capturing the pain and horror on the faces of the victims family’s while they are viewing evidence related to their loved ones violent death for what is likely the first time, and then broadcasting those images to every living room in the state is the most barbaric, insensitive encroachment on a victims family’s right to be treated with fairness and respect in the judicial process.” Another woman, Rhoda Micoca, who works in victim services said she was adamantly opposed to the fifth recommendation made by the task force’s court record subcommittee. The recommendation would make criminal conviction information available to the public online through the Judicial Branch’s web site. The subcommittee felt conviction information should include the following: docket number of case, defendant’s name, arrest date, charges, and disposition including any fines, jail time and probation time imposed by the court.Micoca said she knows a victim who worked at a convenient store and reported to her boss that her supervisor was stealing. The charges for stealing were then turned around and brought against her and now she has a conviction, Micoca said. She said she “did not have the connections to fight off this criminal charge.“The reporters on the task force tried to explain to Micoca that the recommendation also protects the innocent. They gave the example of the innocent person who is arrested, the media covers it, then it’s discovered they didn’t commit a crime and the case is dismissed. There’s no way for the public to know how the case turned out because the information is not public. Micoca said she felt the recommendation would hinder the rehabilitation process of convicted persons, whether they were convicted of a felony or misdemeanor. Chief Courts Administrator Judge William Lavery agreed with Micoca’s position on the recommendation which he has criticized in the past. In fact, Lavery’s views were so similar to Micoca’s he took a moment to point out to the members of the task force that he had never met her before. Freelance reporter Jane Mills said the cost of getting a court transcript was exorbitant. The last woman to testify said she was recently asked to pay $3 per page for a transcript. Copies of court cases aren’t much better, Mills argued. She said Connecticut’s $1 per page fee was one of the highest she has encountered as a reporter in several other states. To add insult to injury attorneys, not the public, are able to check a case out, run up to the law library and copy it themselves for 10 cents a page. The task force will hold a meeting Monday, Sept. 11 to vote on its final recommendations to Acting Chief Justice David Borden. Borden gave the task force a Sept. 15 deadline.