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Hon. Chase T. RogersAppellate Court
State of Connecticut
Chambers of CHASE T. ROGERS

Judge Chase T. Rogers
Opening Statement
Judiciary Committee
April 5, 2007

It is a privilege to be appearing before you on this occasion. Governor Rell has honored me with this nomination, and I thank her for her confidence.
 

If you choose to approve my nomination, I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve the citizens of Connecticut.

By way of background I spent my career as an attorney with Cummings & Lockwood in Stamford, Connecticut, where I litigated both at the trial and the Appellate Court levels, primarily handling commercial and employment-related cases.

A large part of my practice was also spent advising clients on personnel issues and providing sexual harassment and diversity training to corporations and schools.

In January of 1998, I was appointed to the Superior Court bench. For the eight years I was on the Superior Court, I enjoyed a variety of assignments. I began my judicial career in the GA in Danbury. I was then the presiding judge for juvenile matters in Bridgeport, where I handled both delinquency, and abuse and neglect cases.

From there I went to the Child Protection Section in Middletown, where I heard termination of parental rights petitions. I then was assigned to civil matters in Waterbury.

Then, for the next four years, I was the presiding judge for the Complex Litigation docket in Stamford, Connecticut. In May of 2005, I became the presiding judge for civil matters in Stamford.

These assignments, particularly the child protection session, and Complex Litigation dockets, required that I review lengthy records and do a significant amount of writing.

At the trial level I wrote over 150 decisions, of which approximately 30 were fully reviewed by the Appellate Court or Supreme Court. These writing experiences, in particular, piqued my interest in being considered for the Appellate Court.

Since being appointed to the Appellate Court I have authored 34 opinions and one dissent and have been on the panel of 136 cases. To date, all of the cases that I authored have been denied certification for review by the Supreme Court.

I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work in courts throughout the State and work with dedicated and professional judicial employees at each of the assignments I have been given. I can truly say that I have looked forward to going to work each and every day for the last nine years.

I know that you have a lot of questions, but I thought it might be helpful if I spent a few minutes discussing my preliminary goals and objectives if I am confirmed as Chief Justice.

Beginning with the administrative aspects of the job, we as a branch have to be proactive and engage in long term strategic planning. Over the last five weeks I have had the opportunity to think about and discuss with people a lot of very good ideas that we must consider in order to make our branch stronger. My overriding goal with respect to all of the ideas that I will discuss with you today is to enhance the confidence of the public in our judicial system. I am also hopeful that through increased communication and cooperation between the branches we can achieve what we both want, to provide the citizens of Connecticut with the best state court system in the country.

Beginning with openness in the courts, which is now an express part of our mission, as you are aware we are in the process of making a number of changes to avoid secrecy and to assure that our courts are more accessible to all.

As you are aware the judicial branch's public access task force made a number of concrete recommendations to provide as much access as possible consistent with the additional mission of the court to resolve matters before it in a fair and timely manner. As you have heard from Justice Borden several of them require legislative action and several of them are really legislative policy decisions. I have provided to the committee the most recent progress report as to the status of these recommendations which I endorse. As you can see many of them have already been implemented through vote by the judges and administratively. The rules committee is actively working on those initiatives that require rules changes in open meetings, there will be a public hearing and the proposed rules will be presented to the judges for approval in June. I also am pleased to tell you that if I am confirmed I have requested and Justice Borden has agreed to continue beyond his retirement date the task of overseeing the implementation of the recommendations of the judicial task force to ensure openness, accessibility and transparency. This will include recommending to me future specific initiatives that the bench can undertake. He has worked tirelessly over the last year on openness initiatives and should be thanked for his efforts in this regard.

A number of the judicial committee meetings have been opened to the public and information regarding the time and place of these meetings is available in a clear manner on the judicial website every day. The Appellate and Supreme Courts have voted on and agreed to increased electronic coverage of oral arguments in the Supreme and Appellate Courts. The Supreme Court has a new protocol for better viewing of these arguments. The Judicial-Media Committee is up and running. I am told by Judge Lavine that the first meeting which is designed to improve communication between the judicial branch and the media was very productive. The super secret sealing of files has stopped and this chapter is drawing to a conclusion with Judge Beach's decisions regarding the files.

I want to conclude my remarks about openness by saying that while we continue to look at ways to assure openness in the system, it should not be forgotten that any citizen can walk into any courthouse and watch our judges at work, with the exception of the Juvenile Court. My experience as a presiding and an Appellate Judge is that the Superior Court judges every day make extremely difficult decisions in an open forum in a fair, impartial, and just manner and to the best of their ability.

Another area that we must focus on is accessibility to the court, because this aspect of our performance will also directly impact on the public's confidence in the courts. Access is something that I thought about a great deal while I was sitting on the Superior Court. It is extremely important that when citizens, including the lawyers, come to participate in court, they must be able to find where they are supposed to go, they must be treated courteously, and for someone who is non-English speaking they must be able to understand what is happening. These are simple concepts but essential.

The Court Service Centers have proved particularly helpful to the pro ses and lawyers. In 2004, over 154,000 people used the resources of these centers. However, we can do more.

In a related area, we also know that we must increase the number of Court Interpreters that are available to assist limited-English speaking individuals who come to court. We have an obligation to ensure that people who come to court for what are often the most important matters in their lives can fully understand and participate in the court process.

In sum, there are courthouses in this state that are models for accessibility and we need to take those models and do centralized training to make sure that all of the courthouses provide the best possible service to the people who use them.

If confirmed I want to refocus our efforts on helping judges to improve their skills. It is essential that the Judges of Connecticut be able to perform their functions and decide cases in an impartial and independent manner based on the rule of law, that they not be influenced by politics or fear that their decisions may not be popular. This independence is essential to maintaining the integrity of the system. Independence leads to impartial administration of the laws and the protection of minority rights. I have never understood the argument, however, that this means that judges cannot or should not be mentored by other more experienced judges. I want to look at how we can better assist our judges through mentoring and also how we can provide a better evaluation process so that judges can continue to improve their skills. I want to emphasize that none of this means that anyone is going to tell a judge how to decide a case. Instead my goal would be to find a way without infringing on independence to provide judges with feedback that they can consider and implement as they deem appropriate.

In order to maintain the public's confidence, we also need to look at whether judges should be provided with a more formal resource by which they can obtain advisory opinions regarding judicial ethics questions that arise. Additionally we need to look at our current Judicial Code of Ethics which has not been revised in many years. The ABA code of ethics has just completed reviewing and providing recommendations for some changes to its code which will be a helpful starting point for us. If confirmed I have asked and Judge Schaller and Judge Keller have agreed that they would be willing to work on this proposal.

I want to comment briefly on diversity. The Judicial Branch has had Affirmative Action and EEO plans for more than 25 years. During that time, the percentage of minorities in the Branch workforce has grown from 9.6 percent in 1983 to 25.8 percent by the end of 2006.

We have made strides in increasing minority representation in the Branch over the past two decades, but we recognize that we cannot rest on these successes. There is more to do and more progress to be made. In particular, in initially reviewing the numbers, I believe we need to do more to increase the number of Latinos in the workforce.

To maintain public confidence we need to decide cases efficiently. I am happy to report that over the last 10 years the number of pending civil jury and court cases has declined by half. On the criminal side, dockets in the Judicial District and G.A. courts remain stable as we are able to keep pace with incoming criminal matters.

Judges, Judge Trial Referees, members of the bar, state’s attorneys, public defenders and Judicial Branch staff should be commended for their efforts to reduce backlogs and manage the courts’ dockets in a fair and expeditious manner.

We do have a small claims backlog. The jurisdictional amount for small claims matters was increased on October 1, 2005, from $3,500 to $5,000. This has resulted in the number of small claims filings increasing from 72,000 per year to 90,000 per year.

Also, over the past year, the Branch has centralized the processing of small claims matters to standardize procedures, employ new technology and to reduce the workload in Geographical Area courts.

The centralized small claims office has struggled over the past year because of the increase in small claims filings and staff shortages. We are aware of the problem and hope to clear up the backlog in the centralized small claims office by the end of May of this year.

Finally, with regard to initiatives, I think it is time, as Justice Callahan did in 1998, to create a Commission on Public Trust and Confidence. This commission will determine the degree to which our citizens have faith in the judicial system and provide proposals to enhance public confidence.

If confirmed I look forward to going to each of the courthouses in the State to discuss informally with the judges and other Branch employees these preliminary ideas and any other proposals that will help to strengthen our branch because as I started by saying we need to refocus our thinking to be proactive.

I would like to speak briefly about my choice of a chief court administrator, when Judge Lavery retires later this year, and the deputy chief court administrator if I am confirmed. As I have started to understand what my job will entail if confirmed, it is apparent to me that these are extremely important positions if we hope to reach the goals that I have outlined for you. I have not made final decisions as to who will be selected for the positions of Chief Court Administrator or Deputy Chief Court Administrator, but I have given a lot of thought to the type of people I believe should fill these roles. I have also had the opportunity to talk to past and present chief court administrators as to the type of person who is appropriate for these jobs. Based on these discussions, I believe he or she must be someone who can listen well, can communicate clearly and effectively, who will share my vision for the Branch but who will not be afraid to tell me when they think there is something I need to be told, who thinks innovatively and who has a clear understanding of what issues the trial judges are struggling with and who will give due consideration to how we can help them do a better job and provide a better service to the public. Simply put, the trial judges should not be afraid or reluctant to talk to their administrative judges, chief administrative judges or the deputy and chief court administrator, about concerns or new ideas that they have of ways to do things better. Obviously the last piece of the puzzle is that the team we assemble will clearly understand and be capable of saying to me you need to consider these options and you need to make a decision. At the same time, when the appropriate team is in place, I plan to delegate the day to day decision making and not get involved unless there is a policy issue that needs my attention.

That leads to the final area that I would like to comment on. As I started out by saying, I have had the opportunity to have assignments that involved a lot of writing and in-depth analysis. I am truly humbled by the possibility that I may have the privilege and responsibility of deciding cases in this state's court of last resort. Again, thank you for your patience and I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

 

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