Christine Stuart photo

Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers thanked a joint session of the General Assembly Thursday morning for recognizing that the Judicial Branch is “not a discretionary agency, but is a separate, co-equal branch of government.”

In her “State of the Judiciary” address to the joint session Rogers highlighted the branch’s accomplishments over the past two years and didn’t let the opportunity slip by to remind them “that the Judicial Branch needs adequate funding to administer justice.”

She said over the past two years more than one million cases have been filed in Connecticut’s courts and the courts have disposed of almost the same amount. She said the branch has taken some innovative approaches to handling the caseload, while at the same time “providing the best possible services to individuals who use our courts.”

From the foreclosure mediation program to the expansion of its electronic filing system, Rogers said that these are just a few of the things the courts have been working on these past two years.

Rogers also said she feels like she’s made progress on enhancing public confidence in the system.

Rogers was appointed Chief Justice in 2007 on the heels of retired Justice William J. Sullivan’s fall from grace.

In 2006 Sullivan withheld a Freedom of Information decision to help Justice Peter T. Zarella succeed him as chief justice. The Judicial Review Council suspended Sullivan for 15 days in Jan. 2008 after Sullivan decided to withdraw his appeal of the council’s decision. Zarella was forced to withdraw his nomination and shortly after the dust settled Rogers was nominated to the position by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Shortly after becoming Chief Justice, Rogers created the Public Service and Trust Commission, which was charged with developing the branch’s first ever strategic plan. She said the group spent more than 500 hours discussing how the branch could address the challenges it faces.

Committee were then appointed to carry out the recommendations made by the strategic plan. “The initial areas of focus include: enhancing jury service, providing better resources for self-represented parties, better serving our limited-English proficiency population, and enhancing the judicial evaluation process.”

“You may be wondering how much all of this will cost,” Rogers said. “The good news for both the branch and for you is that we anticipate many of the recommendations will be implemented at little or no cost.”

Sen. Andrew McDonald, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said after Rogers speech that there’s a bill making its way through the legislature which would increase filing fees to help the Judicial Branch pay for some of these improvements. He said the legislature is also looking at giving the branch a little more autonomy over its finances once the legislature and the governor agree to an appropriation. He said some of this year’s mitigation plans have sought to take money away from certain line items in the branch’s budget.

Rogers’ speech Thursday was the first time in eight years that a joint session of the General Assembly has been convened to hear the “State of the Judiciary.”

McDonald said as co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he gets to hear all the time what the branch is doing, but “it’s critical that the full legislature hear about some of the good work being done by the branch.” He said he’s glad the speech was revived.

Click here to read Rogers’ prepared remarks in full.