Gavel Grab

Conn. Gov. Malloy Nominates First Hispanic for High Court

Connecticut Appellate Judge Carmen Espinosa was picked on Monday by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Monday as his second nominee to the state Supreme Court. If confirmed, Espinosa would be the first Hispanic to sit on the state’s highest court, says the Hartford Business Journal.

Two years ago, Espinosa became the first Hispanic member of the Connecticut Appellate Court. She was also the first Hispanic to sit on the state’s Superior Court bench in 1992, reports the Hartford Courant.

“It is an honor to have the opportunity to name a woman with such a distinct and respected background to our state’s highest court,” Malloy said at a state Capitol press conference. “Judge Carmen Espinosa has had an impressive career and is among our state’s most respected jurists. She will serve the people well when confirmed to the bench.” Read more

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Conn. Federal Judge Seeks Out of State Help on Case Backlog

Chief U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson is experiencing the “perfect storm” over the federal court’s backlog. The Associated Press reports that Alvin is seeking help from out-of-state judges to better manage a backlog of civil cases left in limbo by judicial vacancies.

Within the past year, one of the court’s senior judges passed away, another became incapacitated by illness, and a third was promoted to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Two Connecticut judges are no longer “taking criminal cases or conducting civil trials,” leaving the federal bench sorely lacking in its ability to hear civil cases.

President Barack Obama nominated Hartford lawyer, Michael Shea, to fill the vacancy left by one judge’s promotion, but a Connecticut Post article says partisan gridlock in the Senate might prevent him from receiving a vote until next year. Read more

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Avenues to Greater Judicial Diversity Explored in Connecticut

In Connecticut, women are steadily getting appointed to more state judgeships, currently holding one-third of the seats on the Supreme, Appellate, and Superior Court benches. But there still is room for improvement, diversity advocates say.

“Yes, we’ve made strides in Connecticut in judicial gender parity, but we have a way to go,” said Teresa Younger,  executive director of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, according to a Law.Com article, originally published in the Connecticut Law Tribune.

The article highlighted changes that have enabled greater gender diversity on the bench as well as ideas that could enhance diversity further.

An acceptance of greater experiential diversity has helped change the face of the state courts. A top factor has been a shift away from a standard that judges have litigation experience.

Superior Court Judge Anna Ficeto, whose experience as a private attorney included real estate practice, said, “I certainly didn’t have a lot of litigation experience.” She added, “That shift has helped women attorneys seeking judgeships.”

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Connecticut Editorial: 'Thank Heavens' for No Judicial Elections

The politicized nature of judicial elections shatters public confidence in the judiciary, according to an editorial in the Connecticut Law Tribune.

“The ultimate power of the judiciary comes from the respect the public has when it feels that the judiciary’s decisions are those of an independent, unbiased institution and that such an institution is more suited than the public itself to decide questions of law and fact. A judicial election that becomes a proxy for resolution of a political dispute is no way to instill public confidence in the independence and objectivity of the judiciary.”

Unlike other political branches of government, which reflect the public’s votes and attitudes, the judicial branch bases decisions on the facts and the law as they apply to individual cases.

The Tribune editorial, titled “Thank Heavens for No Judicial Elections,” focuses heavily on a recent Wisconsin high court election, narrowly won by Justice David Prosser (see this Gavel Grab post). Following a legal challenge to the process under which anti-union legislation passed, “large amounts of money were poured into the [judicial] campaign” for the deciding vote in an otherwise split state Supreme Court.

Connecticut uses merit selection for appellate court judges. According to its website, the Connecticut Law Tribune is “Connecticut’s only weekly newspaper devoted to covering the legal community.”

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Court Funding Cuts: Budget Axe Falls

On opposite coasts, massive court funding cuts are making headlines and in some cases leading to grave concerns over courts meeting their constitutional obligations.

With $350 million in cuts ahead for this fiscal year and a like amount for next year, California’s Judicial Council meets this week to weigh recommendations that have state judges “shuddering in their robes,” according to a San Jose Mercury News article.

“This is unprecedented,” said Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, head of the council. “There is no other way to say it. It is an amount that is startling to us.” The fiscal crunch is likely to produce not only delays in the delivery of justice but also a “closed for business” sign hanging on certain Bay Area courthouse doors, on some days.

In Connecticut, more than $76 million in cuts over a two-year period were mandated  by the legislature. These cuts  are expected to bring layoffs for about 450 workers and the closure of four courthouses, an Associated Press article reported.

“Access will be limited and we also anticipate that the resolution of civil, family, housing and small claims cases will be delayed. The end result is that our ability to administer justice as required by the Constitution may very well be compromised,” Chief Justice Chase Rogers said, according to an NBC Connecticut article.

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CT Public Financing Law Left Intact

It was the Supreme Court’s decision voiding an Arizona public campaign financing provision that drew widespread attention this week. Less noticed was a Supreme Court action that left intact a challenged aspect of Connecticut’s public financing law.

The high court on Tuesday dismissed an appeal that challenged Connecticut requirements for third party candidates to qualify for public campaign funds, the Associated Press reported.

One day after declaring unconstitutional the Arizona provision, the court on Tuesday “signaled something just as significant: Not all forms of public financing will raise the ire of the justices,” a Washington Post article said.

“It gives some reason to hope that the Supreme Court is not on the war path to eliminate all forms of public financing,” said Tara Malloy, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, a JAS partner on campaign reform issues.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Florida struck down a provision in that state’s campaign law that mirrored the Arizona provision found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, according to an Orlando Sentinel article. The Arizona provision for “trigger funds” allowed publicly funded candidates to get additional money when privately financed candidates or independent groups spent more. Read more

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