Not much to say here, since this is just the Gov’s proposed budget [pdf], but we’d be taking hits too (and might end up closing/merging two courthouses). I want to know what “remove or limit inflation” means. Page 719 onwards.
CT is in the midst of judicial renominations, as I wrote about recently. So judges naturally are the center of attention, both in the legislature and the media. But perhaps no judge in recent months has received the scrutiny that Judge Curtissa Cofield, who is not up for renomination, has.
Judge Cofield was arrested several months ago for driving while intoxicated and hitting a parked cruiser. As if that wasn’t enough, stories started to circulate in the media that Judge Cofield had gone on a rant while being booked, using racial slurs and asserting her status as a judge.
Many articles were written, pillorying her and calling for her resignation. Inexcusable, her behavior was called. A stain on the judicial system, the incident was declared. There were a few articles written about her tremendous work in Hartford’s Community Court, but those were few and far between.
Just last week, the police department released portions of the booking video, which you can view below.
State legislators had been hoping to view the video, and now will be able to do so and consider whatever decision the Judicial Review Council makes. Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the legislative judicial committee, has said that lawmakers could theoretically seek Cofield’s removal.
He said Monday he believes that the council “will consider whether to recommend that she be removed as a judge. … I think in many ways the ball is in Judge Cofield’s court to convince them that she deserves to remain on the bench. I think if any legislator, any judge, any prosecutor, any police officer, did the exact same thing … they probably would end up losing their job.”
I remember reading elsewhere that some finding of probable cause had been made and her case was referred to the Judicial Review council for punishment.
While all this was proceeding, Judge Patricia Swords was facing an early end to her judicial career. Not because of anything she did off the bench, but for her partisan behavior on the bench. One state Senator remarked during Judge Swords’ reconfirmation hearing that one incident should not be the undoing of a career and that her behavior should be weighed against her appellate record of reversals. She made it through by a whisker, and nary a whimper in the press questioning this re-appointment.
So while this one solitary incident (which it wasn’t really: it was representative of a pattern of behavior) wasn’t Judge Swords’ undoing, a single solitary incident may indeed unravel the career of Judge Cofield.
What do we, as a people, value in our Judges? What does the judicial system value in judges? Clearly, by these two accounts (and this third of Judge Thomas Miano), the answer is appearance.
One of the most famous canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct is to avoid the appearance of impropriety. There is no guidance in the Code about impropriety on the bench or off the bench and, thus, no weighing of factors. But this little dance in the legislature and the Review Council has laid bare one thing: as long as you don’t embarass the State by giving the media something juicy like a crime or a DUI, your career is safe. It has also become clear that the rights of individuals in state courst are by-products of the judicial system, not the focus. How else can one explain the fact that a DUI and some drunken ramblings will likely lead to the firing of a judge, whereas a blatant prosecutorial bent and disregard for the rule of law will get another confirmed?
Actually, I can: sensationalism, thou hast claimed another victim.
The death penalty evokes strong emotions in those for and against it. The arguments have been thoroughly debated: justice, vengeance, retribution, eye-for-an-eye, we’re better than that, the state should not be in the killing business, it’s inhuman, it’s cruel and unusual, we’re the only civilized country, it is not deterrent, it doesn’t achieve anything, it keeps wounds open.
But we are living in very difficult times. The economy is performing at its worst level in decades – and some might say that this recession is the worst of a lifetime. The costs are piling up and the revenue stream is drying up. The state is facing a budget deficit of close to $1bn this year and over $8bn for the next two years. That’s an astronomical sum. And while Gov. Rell says that cuts are coming, and while taxpayers suggest ways to cut costs, and while legislators debate decriminalizing less than an ounce of marijuana, I have yet to see anyone opine that we should cut one expense in the judicial system: abolish the death penalty.
Abolition has been proposed in CT before: most notably prior to Michael Ross’ desire to be executed. It really hasn’t come up since. We all know, however, that if there is one thing that supersedes politicians’ desire to be “tough on crime”, it would money.
The costs of the death penalty are also well documented and not insignificant. Housing a death row inmate costs approximately $100k a year: in CT, there are currently 10 people on death row. That’s $1 million a year. Each of those death row inmates has either an appeal or a petition for writ of habeas corpus pending. That means lawyers for both the State and the defense, usually two or more on each side. There are also several capital felony prosecutions in progress throughout the state. That means additional costs: lawyers (again), investigators, experts. It means months and years of preparation and legislation. It means that the attention of those lawyers is drawn away from run-of-the-mill cases, which means more lawyers need to be hired to meet Constitutional standards of representation.
Perhaps the good folks at the OLR can do a cost study and inform the Governor of the potential savings in cost if the death penalty is abolished.
At the very least, the time is ripe for a moratorium on the death penalty.
It was a longshot, but by definition, it means that it was worth a shot. The CT Supreme Court recently held in State v. Carrasquillo that mandatory-minimum sentences for juvenile offenders don’t violate the Eight Amendment to the Constitution. This properly should be considered a companion case to the “Life without parole is not cruel and unusual” decision from a few months ago (my post on that decision here).
Like the previous case, the defendant in this case relies heavily on Roper v. Simmons. The defendant argued that juvenile possess characteristics different from adults that make the application of a mandatory-minimum sentence unconstitutional. The defendant did not argue that juveniles cannot be sentenced to 30, 40 or even 50 years in prison, but that a sentencing scheme that deprives a judge the ability to take into consideration the mental development of a teen and sentence less than 25 years is cruel and unusual punishment.
Once again, the court relies on a tested phrase to justify its decision: death is different. Roper spoke only to death, not to any other punishment and thus is inapplicable.
This, in my opinion, is too literal a reading of Roper. While Roper may have dealt only with the death penalty, the studies cited in Roper should have some applicability in the general field of juvenile punishment.
The argument in support of the defendant’s claim is this:
[N]ew technologies have revealed significant differences between the adolescent brain and the adult brain, including differences in psychosocial functioning. [A]dolescents are more readily influenced by their peers and have different attitudes toward risk and risk taking, with less orientation toward the future than adults. [T]he defendant was a typical teenager who still exhibited methods of thinking characteristic of an adolescent. [A]lthough the legal system considers a defendant’s actions in light of what a reasonable person would do under the circumstances, an adolescent’s actions should be measured against what a reasonable adolescent would do under the circumstances.
If an adolescent cannot fully comprehend the actions he has taken, if he is prone to growth and further understanding of his actions and development of his moral compass, then a mandatory-minimum sentence of 25 years, to be imposed in every single case, regardless of what the individual circumstances are, can start to seem cruel and unusual.
By mandating that a juvenile automatically be sentenced to 25 years, we are snuffing out any chance at rehabilitation; any glimmer of hope that the adolescent mind grows and learns and can become a contributing member of society is snuffed. Much like the life that the juvenile took away, his life will also be wasted.
There is a significant difference between an adolescent spending 10 years in jail and being released at 25 and spending 25 years in jail and being released at 40. What is he to do at 40, having spent half his teenage years, his entire 20s and 30s in prison? Will he have any tools or skills to succeed in life? Will he know anything of life?
Some cases might definitely warrant long sentences of juvenile offenders. But certainly not all, and that is what this statute does. It does not discern between the still forming adolescent mind that has a chance to fully develop a sense of right and wrong and one that has and makes a decision cognizant of the consequences.
Folks, don’t ever again say I don’t call things. I called this.
Finally, it seems that legislators might be getting “smart” on drugs and drug crimes. And no, the impetus isn’t a wake up call on the inherent unfairness of the drug crimes and the racially disproportionate impact they have. It’s the economy, stupid.
Sen. Toni Harp, chairwoman of the powerful appropriations committee, and Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney hope economics will succeed where other arguments have failed in convincing their colleagues that the costs of prosecuting and punishing pot smokers is an expense Connecticut can no longer afford.
“We’ve got to take a strong look at what we want to pay for as a state,” said Harp, D- New Haven, who with Looney is co-sponsoring a bill that would punish low-level marijuana users with a fine, not a criminal charge.
“To waste our resources on this small problem is not a good use of the people’s money.”
Now, they’re not going as far as I would go, so simmer down (and you know who you are). The proposed bill would decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of marijuana – essentially what Massachussetts did this past November. People found using that small an amount would be fined: akin to a parking ticket.
There’s a twofold benefit to this: not only do we save the money from the prosecutions, convictions, programs and – of course – incarcerations, but also generate revenue for the State from the fines. A Harvard study estimated that MA spent $30 million a year on low-level drug enforcement and that is certainly money that can be saved and spent elsewhere.
But what’s really making me shine my mutton chops in this story is that the bill also proposes reducing the “w/in X feet of a school” zone. That means no longer will the entire city of New Haven subject a drug seller to an extra penalty.
Connecticut legislators also will consider a measure that would reduce the size of drug-free school zones. Under state law, any drug activity is subject to harsher criminal penalties if it takes place within 1,500 feet of a school, housing project or day-care center. Critics say such laws unfairly discriminate against residents of cities and densely populated suburbs.
Indeed. Take a look at the map in this post. I’d obviously like them to go further and eliminate the whole silly statute (see the map post). It clearly isn’t working as a deterrent and does nothing but punish those that live and “work” in the city of New Haven (or other large cities).
While the legislators are considering this bill, perhaps they should spend some time looking through the General Statutes and start eliminating some other crimes that are redundant and duplicative (*cough*home invasion*cough*).
While that may be a pipe dream, the decriminalization of small amounts of pot may not be. Obviously, the big battle lies ahead, with the bill needing to actually make it out of committee and onto the floor of the legislature for a vote. But there is hope. And that’s something we could all use these days.
*FATWOD: Fight Against The War On Drugs
Someone needs to explain to me why this case ever made it to SCOTUS. Actually, I have several questions:
- What are you asking for, exactly?
- Is this a case of getting too greedy or too literal?
- Did anyone consider the ramifications of an unfavorable decision in this case? (Let me spell it out for you: it could spell complete evisceration of a well-established and solidly pro-defense line of cases starting with Santobello)
- How do you get selected to argue in front of SCOTUS and then produce a complete clunker [pdf] (and not just one counsel – both!)?
- Does anyone think either lawyer has any clue as to what is being asked of them?
I fear that Puckett might win the battle, but lose the war. That would be bad news for all of us.
Judicial reconfirmations in Connecticut have usually been a low-key affair, so it was newsworthy last week when an all out battle erupted on the floor of the Senate during the reconfirmation of Judge Patricia Swords.
Judge Swords, just finishing up her first 8 year term a judge of the Superior Court, made it through the Judiciary Committee by a margin of 4 votes, despite the testimony [pdf] of a prominent criminal defense attorney regarding her behavior in a murder case where she declined to grant a continuance when the lead counsel had suffered a soon to be fatal brain injury just two days prior to the start of trial. Her reconfirmation made it through the House of Representatives pretty easily (100-41 or so), but stalled in the Senate, where the votes were pretty evenly decided.
After a vigorous debate on the floor of the Senate, during which Senators questioned the anonymous comments submitted by the defense bar opposing her reconfirmation (one of them likened these comments to blog posts – ha!) and used misinformed logic such as the number of decisions upheld on appeal. If I remember correctly, one of the Senators, in her defense, asked something along the lines of whether we should…well…judge a judge based on demeanor or accuracy in the law.
Anyone who has practiced law should know that not everything a judge does on the bench or behind the scenes that questions their impartiality in a case is appealable.
The judge was eventually confirmed by a vote of 19-18, the tiebreaking vote being cast by the Lt. Governor. But this reconfirmation battle raised some interesting questions, and rightly so.
In a process that is highly politicized – from the initial confirmation to each subsequent reconfirmation – is there any room for a truly objective evaluation and re-evaluation process?
It’s tough to know what the judiciary committee and the legislature rely on in making their assessment of whether to give a judge another 8 year term. One can assume that the anonymous questionnaires they send to counsel after each trial are taken into account, but these questionnaires are generic and rudimentary, at best. Also, given the fact that they are sent to both parties, their utility is questioned by many, including me. Parties unhappy with the outcome may tend to grade the judge lower and vice-versa.
There is obviously a cause for hesitation among lawyers to attaching their names to any criticism of judges. In some ways, it’s the same problem that plagues reporting of questionable or unethical conduct to the grievance committee. There is a fear of retribution – whether legitimate or not. If, after all this brouhaha, Judge Swords was reconfirmed and will serve at least another 8 years on the bench, what is the reward that outweighs the risk to an attorney who sticks his neck out and provides signed criticism of the judge? She may legitimately feel that by doing so, she is risking the well-being of clients, current and future.
So what then is the appropriate mechanism for review? After all, we really shouldn’t rely on a system where the fate of a judge hangs on a chance encounter with an up-to-then opposed Senator in the hallway prior to a vote on the floor. Because that’s what happened here. A chance meeting in the hallways of the legislature between the then-likely-to-be-former-Judge Swords and Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury lead to Sen. Hartley changing her no vote to yes. I’d sure like to know what was said in that brief encounter, because it was powerful enough to get the good Senator to change her mind and keep Judge Swords’ career alive. Surely, the fate of our eminent jurists cannot hinge on such fortuitous meetings.
And we certainly cannot have unnamed judicial branch members ushering judges around the legislature into meetings with Senators and Representatives.
But is there an alternative (and please don’t talk about election)? Can there be an effective and unbiased review process and what should or would such a review entail?
Certainly a prime criterion in evaluating the performance of a judge should be her actual work: but how is that appropriately measured? The number of reversals on appeal mean nothing more than that 3-4 judges agreed with a particular interpretation of the law. The only way to effectively measure performance, in my opinion, is an in-depth evaluation by members of the bar appearing before those judges. And those evaluations have to be honest. It has to involve an in-depth evaluation of the judges behavior on the stand while dealing with lawyers and pro-ses and that can be achieved through a parsing of transcripts.The judiciary committee, in making its recommendations, must take a closer look at any complaints put forth by lawyers. Perhaps the legislature needs yet another committee or sub-committee, charged with the task of ferreting out those that do not deserve to don the black robe. If the parole board can sit in judgment of other human beings based on acts in their past, surely we can come up with some system whereby the gatekeepers of justice are judged.
The key, though, in my opinion, is to be heard by standing up and being counted. There is certainly a strength in numbers, as evidenced by the near ouster of Judge Swords. What are judges going to do? Exact revenge on all 75 members of the bar that signed their names to their evaluations and said negative things about the judges? Doesn’t it stand to reason that in the future, judges will be less likely to be unfair and impartial toward those members, for the appearance of retribution would surely be a death knell for their careers?
Now, you may rightly say, “Gideon, you should be the last person to talk about shedding the cloak of anonymity”. True, I sit behind this cloak and offer my thoughts on general principles of criminal law. But I will tell you this: I hope that if I am ever faced with a situation where I feel the judge has committed an act so egregious as to call into question their impartiality on the bench, I will have the conviction to say something and repeat my objection if the need arises.
I’m not talking about decisions a judge makes that you may disagree with. I don’t believe that is worthy of sending to a review committee. Those observations are best saved for the anonymous questionnaires of questionable utility. But every now and then, a judge does something that leaves you speechless, that leaves you with the absolutely firm impression that what she just did was a blatant show of bias or partiality and a violation of the rule of law. That is when it is your obligation to stand up and say that this cannot be permitted. And the judge should have to answer for that.
A judge may learn, as Judge Swords said she did, that such behavior cannot be tolerated from a member of the bench. Or a judge may not. Ultimately, with the system we have, it is up to the legislature to decide. But the legislature cannot make an informed decision without these reports, these pieces of information that shed true light on the merit or demerit of a particular individual to serve a judge of the Superior or appellate courts of the State of Connecticut.
Is there a system where we can get a truly honest evaluation of our judges? I’m not sure there is. All I have presented here are some poorly formed ideas and some half-baked thoughts. You will probably disagree with all that I have said and all that I have asked. But these are questions we must ask and then work toward answering, if we are ever to achieve a fair system of justice.