Connecticut State Library with state seal

Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports

Robert J. Callahan

volume 239, page(s) 961-964

AUGUST 29, 1996

Justices and judges, state and federal, family and friends: It gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you here this morning to this beautiful courtroom to witness the installation of Robert J. Callahan as the new chief justice to preside over the Connecticut Supreme Court and to lead the judicial branch of the state of Connecticut. Our new chief justice will be the thirty-fourth person to hold this high office since the adoption of the state constitution of 1818.

It is altogether fitting that a new chief justice take his oath of office here, in this courtroom. This ceremony will take place under the watchful eyes of many of his predecessors, the relatively recent twentieth century chief justices whose portraits you see all around you. It will also take place under the pictorial representation of the signing of the Fundamental Orders that, more than three hundred fifty years ago, in 1638, marked the beginning of constitutional government in this state.

We are honored that Governor John G. Rowland will conduct this swearing-in ceremony. John G. Rowland, after a distinguished career in the Connecticut legislature and the United States House of Representatives, became our governor in 1995. Throughout his gubernatorial term of office, he has consistently manifested his strong support for the judicial branch. That support has taken many forms. none more important than his presence here today.


Governor Rowland, Chief Justice Peters, Governor O'Neill, justices of the Supreme Court, federal and state judges, state legislators, family and friends. Thank you for being here. I particularly want to thank those of you who made the long trip from Norwalk. It's not often that Norwalkers have the chance to witness the swearing-in of a chief justice from the Clam Town. The last time, as a matter of fact, was in 1870, when Thomas Belden Butler - who I did not know personally - became chief justice.

The seventeenth century clergyman and poet, John Donne, once wrote: "No man is an island." That familiar line is certainly true in my case. There are many people who have made this day possible for me and to whom I am indebted.

A special thanks of course goes to Governor Rowland for nominating me to be chief justice. I also owe a debt of gratitude to former Norwalk Mayor Frank N. Zullo, former Congressman Donald J. Irwin and the late Nick Bredice who, in 1969, brought my desire to be a judge to the attention of the appointing authorities. Contrary to the rumor that I have spread over the years, my initial nomination to the bench was not the result of divine intervention and the successful completion of a judicial merit examination.

I thank the late Governor John Dempsey who first nominated me to the trial bench in 1970 as a judge of the Circuit Court and changed forever the course that my professional life would take. I am grateful also to the late Governor Ella T. Grasso who nominated me to the Superior Court in 1976, and to Governor William A. O'Neill who nominated me to the Supreme Court in 1985. Because of the faith they have shown in me, I have been privileged to serve on the beach for over twenty-six years. During that time, I have had the opportunity to work with many of the diverse and dedicated men and women who comprise the Connecticut Judiciary. I thank them all for unselfishly sharing with me their wisdom, their experience, and their total commitment to justice for all of Connecticut's citizens.

I acknowledge particularly my colleagues past and present on the Supreme Court who taught me to respect the opinions of others even though I might disagree. Although the court's opinions of late sometimes seem to have been formed in a cauldron rather than a melting pot, I assure you we are unanimous in our search for justice and we are stronger and more representative for the different viewpoints expressed.

In addition to the fellowship that I have enjoyed with my colleagues on the bench, I consider myself blessed to have served my entire time on the Supreme Court under the exemplary leadership of Chief Justice Ellen Peters. Fortunately for me and maybe not so fortunately for her, Ellen's new office is only a left hand turn and a short walk down the hallway from mine. This will give me easy access to presume our friendship and ask a few questions such as, "Now that I'm sworn in, what's next?"

There have been many others too numerous to thank individually who have played a part in my career over the years and who have provided the friendship, encouragement and support that brought me here today.

I would, however, ask your indulgence while I introduce the members of my immediate family, who were oftentimes neglected when Dad was preoccupied with an important case, composing a jury charge or writing a opinion. My daughter Sheila and her husband Steve Matthews and grandson Kevin. Steve and Sheila have two other children who are too young and too slippery to bring to today's ceremony. My son Kerry and his wife Maura and grandchildren Colin and Bridgett. Daughter Denise grandson Aedan. My daughter Janine and her husband Tim LeBlanc. Janine and Tim have two children, Sean and Danny, who are in the same slippery category as Sheila's two youngest. My son Patrick. My daughter Jane and her fiance Craig Tiedemann. My daughter Megan, Jane's twin. My son Robert, Jr., and last but not least, my wife Dorothy, my keeper for the last thirty-eight years, without whom I would probably still be home looking for my shirt. Thank you.

With the swearing in of a new chief justice, it is only natural to wish to look ahead to see what the future might hold for Connecticut's courts.

Nevertheless, because I would like to keep my remarks brief, my thoughts for the future of the state's judicial branch must necessarily await another, more appropriate time. I would remiss, however, if I did not take note of the fact that our courts now contend with greater challenges than ever before, in terms of both the volume of cases filed and the complexity of cases heard. As a former Superior Court judge, I know firsthand the difficult problems faced daily by other trial judges, who, along with the clerks' offices, are the front line troops of the justice system. It is imperative that we work diligently to identify and resolve quickly the difficult problems facing our trial courts, not the least of which is the increasing volume of complex litigation and the backlog of 20,000 civil cases now awaiting trial.

All of the state's citizens are the beneficiaries of a strong independent judiciary. If the system is underfunded and understaffed for too long a period of time, then the average citizen's access to the courts is seriously compromised. Having sufficient resources for the just, swift and effective resolution of cases is the best way to ensure the continued provision of equal justice under the law.

That said, I look forward to working closely with the legislative and executive branches to accomplish our mutual goals. Governor Rowland, I appreciate the confidence that you and the General Assembly have placed in me. I do not take your trust lightly, and will do my utmost to live up to your expectations.

In closing, I would quote Hartford's own Mark Twain, who in 1901 said, "Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest." I assure you that as chief justice I will try my best always to do right.

Thank you.

Volume 249, Appendix, pages 933-939

JUNE 3, 1999

Welcome to all of you. Before the court hears this morning's cases, we have some other important business to transact.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, today is the last day that this beautiful and historic courtroom will be graced by having Chief Justice Robert J. Callahan preside over oral argument. The honor of marking this bittersweet occasion falls to me as the senior Associate Justice on this court - speaking on behalf of all of the Chief Justice's colleagues, both on the court and throughout the Judicial Branch.

A special welcome goes to the members of Bob's family who are here this morning - Bob's wife, Dorothy; his brother, William J. Callahan; three of his daughters - Sheila Matthews, Jeanine LeBlanc and Jane Callahan; and his son, Kerry. Sheila, Jeanine, Jane and Kerry are here representing Bob and Dorothy's eight children and ten grandchildren. I suspect that Bob told the rest to stay home, only so that there would be enough seats for the rest of you. In addition, Elizabeth McMahon, the Chief Justice's eighth grade teacher at Center Junior High School, in Norwalk, is here to help celebrate this occasion. Miss McMahon, we're delighted to have you here with us to honor your former student. I trust that you knew all along what a great success he would be.

I know with assurance - because he told me - that Chief Justice Callahan would have preferred not to have had this ceremony. He wanted just to slip away quietly and he actually thought he could get away with it. But not only the long tradition of the court, but our deep and sincere desire to stamp on the public record our regard for hint as a scholar, as a leader and as a treasured colleague, required that his preference be overruled. And so we are here this morning, to honor him and his accomplishments with our deepest admiration and respect.

Chief Justice Callahan came up through the judicial ranks. He served with distinction on the Circuit Court, the Court of Common Pleas and the Superior Court. He truly loved the trial bench, and has often spoken of his exploits there with a sense of affection.

Perhaps his most famous case as a trial judge was the well-publicized "Brookfield demon" case, in which the defendant, who had stabbed the victim to death, claimed that he was not guilty because he had been in fact possessed by a demon, whom he had personally summoned from the body of his girlfriend's young brother. However, trial judge Callahan ruled that defense, namely, "the demon made me do it," out of the case as a matter of law, much to the chagrin of both the defendant and his demon, and the defendant was convicted. The case did garner national media attention, however - and this was before the days of "Hard Copy" and "Gerry Springer" - and there was even a television movie of the trial. And to this day, I think that Bob harbors some disappointment that the producers didn't choose Robert Redford to play the trial judge.

On June 22, 1985, just short of fourteen years ago, Superior Court judge Robert J. Callahan was appointed by Governor O'Neill to this court. To date, and still counting, there are 343 majority opinions, 40 dissenting opinions, and 11 concurring opinions that bear his name. It would be virtually impossible to summarize the body of his jurisprudence as a Justice of this court, but there are three of those opinions of which he is especially proud, and rightly so.

In State v. Golding, then Associate Justice Callahan formulated the standard to govern appellate treatment of a constitutional claim raised on appeal that was not properly preserved at trial. That standard has truly passed the test of time. A recent computer search of the opinions of the Supreme and Appellate Courts revealed 485 citations to the Golding standard, surely making it one of the Court's most frequently cited opinions.

In Jaworski v. Kiernan, Chief Justice Callahan articulated the standard of care that players in recreational sporting events owe to one another. Those of his friends and colleagues who are aware of Bob's memorable, albeit brief, sojourn as a Chicago Bear, under the legendary professional football coach, George Hallas, know that the Chief Justice brought a special sensitivity to the question of when an athlete in a sporting event involving physical contact can be liable to one of his adversaries.

More recently, Chief Justice Callahan's opinion in Packer v. Board of Education set a constitutional landmark. The plaintiff there, a high school student, was expelled from school for possessing marijuana in the trunk of his car - off school grounds and after school hours. The issue was whether the statute, which authorized expulsions for conduct off school grounds that was "seriously disruptive of the educational process," provided the plaintiff with constitutionally adequate notice that his possession of marijuana under those circumstances, would subject him to expulsion from school. In a thorough and tightly reasoned opinion for the court, Chief Justice Callahan concluded that, although the statute was not unconstitutionally vague on its face, it could not be applied constitutionally to the plaintiff.

In the atmosphere in which we labor and by virtue of our work product - our opinions - the public focus is often on the scholarly and public policy aspects of our work. And Justice Callahan has contributed enormously to our Connecticut legal landscape. Intellectually honest, he does not avoid the outcome dictated by unquestioned precedent; he does not compromise the integrity of the law by an unprincipled quest for a desired result; he does not manipulate the means to reach an end. For him, the process by which the decision is reached is as important as the result in the case.

But the career of Robert J. Callahan, whom we honor and admire today, goes significantly beyond his body of opinions. On September 1, 1996, Associate Justice Robert J. Callahan was sworn in as Chief Justice by Governor Rowland, who appointed him to that position. Thus, he has now capped twenty-nine judicial years by serving for the past three years as our Chief Justice.

As we all know, the job of Chief Justice also carries with it the weighty responsibility of leading the Judicial Branch of our state government. In the best of times, and in the worst of times, the buck stops there. In these past three years, Chief Justice Callahan has worked tirelessly and effectively to prepare our branch for the new millennium.

Promoting public confidence and trust in the judicial system, and in the integrity of the legal system as a whole, has been the number one priority for Chief Justice Callahan during his years in office. With enormous planning and effort, several major innovations have come to fruition on his watch.

In February, 1998, the Chief Justice established the Commission on Public Trust and Confidence. That Commission, chaired by the Chief Court Administrator, is charged with evaluating and examining the factors that contribute to the public's confidence in Connecticut's judicial system, and with recommending long-term initiatives to build that trust. As part of this effort to inform the public of our services more effectively, and to demystify the judicial process, the Judicial Community Outreach program has been inaugurated. Coordination of tours of our facilities, establishment of a speakers bureau, and Open House celebrations, have been instituted as ways of increasing our responsiveness to the needs of the community. Demonstrating his total commitment to this effort, Chief Justice Callahan serves as a member of Connecticut's five person leadership team that met recently with other teams from around the country, at the National Conference of Public Trust and Confidence in the Judicial System, in order to formulate a national strategy to enhance public trust in the judiciary.

On a second front, in recognition that dishonest conduct on the part of attorneys results in extensive harm, not only to the client whose money the lawyer took, but to the legal profession as a whole, Chief Justice Callahan encouraged the creation in 1998 of the Client Security Fund, in order to provide reimbursement for losses arising from dishonesty in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Under his aegis, the judges of the Superior Court established the fund as a trust, funded by annual fees assessed upon each attorney admitted to practice in the state and upon each judicial officer in the state. All who have been admitted to practice must participate. The Client Security Fund Committee, appointed by the Chief Justice, is charged with receiving, investigating, and evaluating clients' claims, determining possible reimbursement, and pursuing transgressing attorneys for restitution. This initiative embodies the concept of accountability to which Chief Justice Callahan has long been dedicated.

During his tenure as leader of the Judicial Branch, Chief Justice Callahan has also recognized that public confidence in the judicial system must be matched by and built upon a strong internal foundation. He knows that adequate court facilities that house the judges and support staff, and welcome litigants and the public in a professional atmosphere, are essential to a responsive and effective judicial system. To those ends, in the past three years new courthouses in Waterbury and New Britain have been opened. Moreover, each of our new courts has been designed with the latest in technology and security in mind - built for the future as well as the present.

Additionally, in 1998, based on an innovative concept, the Hartford Community Court was established. A collaborative effort of the state and the City of Hartford, the court targets quality of life violations, and metes out appropriate sanctions, usually in the form of community service. In this way, the Chief Justice's goal of giving back to the community for an offense committed there can be fulfilled.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the position of Chief Justice - more difficult, I suspect, than leading the entire Judicial Branch - is leading this court as an institution. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once described the United States Supreme Court as nine scorpions in a bottle. Well, I don't think that metaphor quite captures us - for one thing, there aren't nine of us - but it does capture the difficulty of leading headstrong and wilful colleagues who usually think that they are right. Chief Justice Callahan has led us these past three years by his unending patience, his boundless consideration of others, and his unfailing good humor. He has led by the most telling and effective marker of leadership - by example.

Bob - in some of your public remarks, you are fond of telling a story about yourself that I'd like to advert to this morning. You tell how your father, a plumbing contractor, really wanted you to become a plumber, and that he was a little disappointed that you became a lawyer instead. Then, you would pause - and, in your characteristically self-deprecating manner, you would add that there are several lawyers who also think that you should have become a plumber.

Well, all of us here today - and everyone in the legal profession in this state - are glad that you didn't become a plumber. I'm sure that you would have been a good one. But I'm even more sure that you have been a superb judge, a superb Justice, and a superb Chief Justice. On behalf of your colleagues on this court and throughout the Judicial Branch, I congratulate you on what is truly an extraordinary career. And we recognize how fortunate we are, to continue to have the benefit of your wisdom, your talents, your common sense, and your uncommon decency, on this court for the year to come, and in the Branch for the years to come.

One final note. Sixty-nine years ago today, Robert J. Callahan was born. Mr. Chief Justice, we wish you a Happy and Healthy Birthday, and many more to follow.