Wednesday was a historic day in Connecticut’s judicial history because it was the first time criminal dockets were made available online, Supreme Court Chief Justice David Borden told the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Borden told the committee that the judicial branch is well on its way its way to implementing many of the task force recommendations to make the courts open to the public. Besides the online criminal docket, it has opened several judicial branch meetings, and established a new judicial media committee that settle disputes regarding court documents and proceedings. Judiciary Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, had some difficulty understanding how some of the administrative information that a court decision found was not subject to the Freedom of Information Act will now be placed on the Internet for the public.
McDonald was referring to the GA-7 case in which an attorney was not given a name, date of birth, and other docket information by clerks in Meriden who considered it administrative information which is not subject to FOIA. Borden said once these steps toward openness are taken it makes it harder to go back. “Is it possible? Theoretically yes,” Borden said. Some of the recommendations made by the task force could not be implemented by the judicial branch alone, which is why members of the Judiciary Committee held hearings on the recommendations later Wednesday afternoon. Which is why members of the Judiciary Committee have been asked to review two bills. Click here for the agenda which includes links to the two bills. Some members of the public felt the recommendations went too far, while others didn’t feel they went far enough, but the primary debate came back to cameras in the courtroom. A media group, Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, argued some of the recommendations were good while some didn’t go far enough. In order to get it to where it believed the judicial branch should be CCFOI encouraged the legislature to pass a constitution amendment that compels the Judicial Branch to be open to the public.Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquirer and member of CCFOI spelled out the issue Wednesday. He said “the big issue you will be deciding will be whether the General Assembly reclaims the legislative power from the judiciary.” Powell opined that if it leaves the legislative power with the courts, “they will soon tire of openness and revert to unaccountability.” Chief Court Administrator Judge William Lavery, in response to Powell’s argument, has written in newspaper editorials that it makes sense for the General Assembly to adopt the rules for the legislature, and for the courts to “make the rules for the courts.” There were others Wednesday, like James Papillo, the state’s Victim Advocate, who expressed strong concerns about the impact of cameras in the courtroom on crime victims. Others called for an inspector general to oversee the conduct of judges, and still others advocated for cameras in the courtroom. To catch up on any of these debates click here and here and here to read about the task force public hearings that took place this summer.