Thursday, March 16, 2006

Will Connecticut Judges have free reign to continue to abuse citizens?

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Panel to squelch constitutional amendment establishing court oversight
By Tom Breen, Journal Inquirer Staff Writer
03/15/2006

HARTFORD -- A measure that would allow citizens to vote on a constitutional amendment stating that the powers of state courts are determined by statute will not likely make it to the next stage of the legislative process.

Three Democrats sitting on the committee the proposal is currently before voted with seven Republicans Monday not to move it forward. Although voting hasn't closed on the resolution yet, 10 no votes in a committee of 20 likely means the measure is dead for the current session, according to a co-chairman of the committee.

"I'm not surprised by the vote," Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo, D-New Britain, cochairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, said.

"It's been a futile effort so far."DeFronzo was one of seven committee members who voted in favor of the resolution, which would put a constitutional amendment before voters establishing that the powers and jurisdiction of state courts will be determined by statute.

Advocates said in testimony last week that judges currently act as de-facto legislators, meeting in secret conventions to pass rules for the courts which function as laws. Opponents of the measure, though, said it would violate the constitutional separation of powers between the different branches of government.

"This goes to basic issues of separation of powers," Rep. Robert Farr, R-West Hartford, said Monday.

"This jeopardizes the independence of the Judicial Department."The Constitution currently says that the powers of the courts are to be determined by law, a stipulation that Rep. James F. Spallone, D-Essex, said made the proposed amendment virtually redundant.

Spallone, who is vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which would also have to approve the proposal, was one of three Democrats to vote against it Monday, along with Rep. Demetrios S. Giannaros, D-Farmington, and Rep. Thomas J. Drew, D-Fairfield. They were joined by the seven Republican members of the committee in opposing the measure.

Drew said testimony did shed light on "unacceptable management practices" in the judicial branch, but said ultimately he was convinced the amendment would be a violation of the separation of powers.

Advocates of the measure, though, said the separation clause refers more to the exercise of powers than to the definition of powers. Rep. Christopher L. Caruso, D-Bridgeport, cited a law passed by the General Assembly forbidding courts from releasing the records of juveniles as an example of the legislature defining the powers of the courts.

"The reason this bill hasn't made it too far, I think, is the number of attorneys who populate this building," Caruso said.

The measure has been raised in previous years, usually passing the GAE committee but dying in another body.

DeFronzo said the measure would have given the public a degree of control over the judiciary that other states achieve by electing judges.

"I don't think this is an unreasonable proposal in a state where we have so little control over the judiciary," he said.

Although not getting committee approval doesn't mean a. proposal is completely finished, DeFronzo said it's unlikely in this case that the proposed amendment will return in another form during the current session.

©Journal Inquirer 2006

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