Members of the public and a handful of editors from various news outlets told Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s Commission on Judicial Reform that it wimped out on its draft report because it didn’t recommend an amendment to the Connecticut Constitution. Instead the commission’s draft report was ambiguous as to which branch of government should implement its recommendations. It directed the report to both the legislative and judicial branches, “without further designation.”
Patrick Sanders, an editor at the Associated Press who is also a member of Supreme Court Justice David Borden’s Task Force, said the one fatal flaw in the Judicial Reform Commission’s report is that “the judges themselves will have to accept it.” He said it’s clear from the news coverage of the judges meeting Monday that most of the judges in the state will be reluctant to accept any of the changes. Borden’s task force recommended a two-year trial of cameras in courts, online access to criminal dockets and convictions, and a policy that allows note-taking in the courtroom. The only judges who spoke out at the meeting Monday spoke in opposition to the recommendations of the Borden task force. Sanders said it’s clear from just this past year that the judicial branch won’t institute reform on its own. For example, in January a judicial marshal stopped a member of the public from taking notes, then six-months later it’s discovered the marshal was only following the courts own rules, explicitly spelled out on a sign outside the courtroom. See CTNewsjunkie’s article on the sign. Without a constitutional amendment “what will keep the next judge from keeping a reporter from taking notes?” Sanders asked. He said the Chief Court Administrator was so opposed to openness in the judicial branch that he went as far as to change language in the some of the recommendations the subcommittee made. Sanders said Justice William Lavery sent an email to one of the clerk’s and requested the phrase “absolute discretion” of the court be added to the end of each of the recommendations. “It’s not their court, it’s the people’s court and I encourage you to give it back to them,” Sanders said.Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer Chris Powell told Rell’s commission Tuesday that if the judiciary claims the power to implement its recommendations “your work will mean nothing.” When she formed the commission, Rell said, “Of course, I recognize and appreciate that the Executive and Legislative branches cannot dictate to the third, equal and independent branch of government, but I am confident this Commission will be able to make recommendations to allow more sunshine into our court operations.” “Consideration will also be given to changes in court rules, practices and procedures that may require administrative and/or legislative approval and, if necessary, even a change in the Connecticut Constitution,” a press release on Rell’s opening remarks to the commission states.The commission did bring up the separation of powers in its first day of discussions and intermittently throughout the process, but focused instead of redefining the meaning of administrative function. Click here to see it’s final report.