Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Chief Justice Peters, Governor Weicker, justices of the Supreme Court, judges of the Appellate Court, members of the state and federal judiciaries, members of the executive and legislative branches, Professor Blumberg and members of Chief Justice Peters' family, invited guests, ladies and gentlemen:
On behalf of my colleagues on the Supreme Court, I am pleased and honored to welcome you this morning to join us as we mark a true milestone in the history of the Connecticut Supreme Court. Ten years ago today, the oath of office of Chief Justice was administered to the Honorable Ellen Ash Peters. At the time Governor O'Neill announced Chief Justice Peters' nomination, he said that the new Chief Justice - and I quote - "will add a new dimension to the history of our Supreme Court." How right he was! But she has riot only added a new dimension, she has set new standards of excellence.
Today, we honor not only the person on the tenth anniversary of her appointment as Chief Justice, we also honor that record of excellence. Little could Governor O'Neill have comprehended the impact that Ellen Peters' appointment would have on the judicial branch of this state. In her embrace of new ideas and perspectives, in her testing of established legal boundaries, in her pursuit of excellence, and in her determination - in her own words - "to find a better way," Chief Justice Peters has upset, to the benefit of the people of Connecticut, the status quo of the judiciary but has done so with a calm, steady, constructive hand. Working with Judge Aaron Ment, and with the close cooperation of the executive and legislative branches, she has molded our court system - during a period of intense fiscal challenge - into a dynamic and efficient branch of state government and she has reformed the administration of our appellate system into a modern, effective organization. Unquestionably, the judicial branch is much better prepared to enter the twenty-first century because of her leadership.
My task today is not simple. There are many facets of Chief Justice Peters' tenure that should be addressed lest they be overlooked; yet to detail the complete record of her accomplishments, or to recite the litany of her degrees, and honorary degrees and honors bestowed, would put a strain on everyone's time schedules, so I'll stick to what I know best, her job performance. Suffice it to say at the outset that Chief Justice Peters wears two hats - one for her judicial duties and one for her administrative responsibilities. Her record is prodigious no matter which hat she happens to be operating under.
During her distinguished tenure on this court, Chief Justice Peters has contributed 541 majority opinions, 50 dissenting opinions and 17 concurring opinions to the jurisprudence of the state of Connecticut. Widely recognized as a scholar, she has brought her towering intellectual skills to her judicial positions, first as an Associate Justice, and then as Chief Justice. Her penetrating analyses of a legion of complex issues have helped shape the contours of Connecticut's legal landscape for the last sixteen and one-half years. Behind her scholarly mien lays a judicial fervor that is constantly ready to probe the ill-defined idea, dissect the weak argument, or terminate the unnecessarily prolonged discourse. On more than one occasion as a justice of this court, I was very happy to be sitting next to her, rather than standing unprepared in front of her.
Although it is a daunting task to single out particular cases from the many she has authored, some brief highlights might serve to illustrate the breadth of her scholarly opinions.
Perhaps the case of McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Connecticut, Inc., is an appropriate starting place. Colloquially referred to as Connecticut's first "right to die case," McConnell touched upon profound issues that affect all of us. A comatose terminally ill patient, a loving family, and a conscientious caretaker institution set the stage for an appeal concerning the rights and obligations of the actors in a tragic situation involving life and death medical issues. Six amicus briefs were filed in that case, a reflection of the division of public opinion surrounding the raised issues of privacy and self-determination. The carefully crafted opinion by Chief Justice Peters explored conflicting claims of jurisdiction, the right to refuse medical treatment, and the attendant factual nuances of the case, before holding that a reasonable construction of Connecticut's Removal of Life Support Act permitted the removal of the life-sustaining tube from the comatose patient. Whether you agree with it or not, McConnell reflects the penetrating legal analysis that all issues are given in Chief Justice Peters' opinions, and also the sensitivity with which she approaches the interests of parties who come before our court seeking justice.
On another front, those of us who work with her will also attest that the field of commercial law is one of the Chief Justice's special interests, something for which myself and the other members of the court on many occasions have said, "Thank God." She is the only person I know who thoroughly understands and can wax enthusiastic about the Uniform Commercial Code. Surely her years of imparting wisdom and precedent on commercial subjects to students at the Yale Law School paved the way for her continued expertise in this area. A case that displays her knowledge is County Fire Door Corporation v. C.F. Wooding Company. There the defendant maintained that when the plaintiff knowingly cashed a check explicitly tendered in full satisfaction of an unliquidated debt, the plaintiff became bound by the "terms of settlement" noted on the check. Chief Justice Peters, writing for a unanimous court, agreed, and in the process of arriving at that conclusion not only meticulously analyzed basic contract principles, but also - in almost comprehensible language - related the particular statutory provision at issue to other relevant provisions of the Uniform Commercial code. When we need a map to follow the route through the Uniform Commercial Code, we don't go to AAA, we ask directions from Ellen Peters.
State constitutional law is also an area in which the Chief Justice has done considerable independent research and writing over the last several years. Our review of cases raising state constitutional claims has consequently benefited greatly from her knowledge of the subject. In State v. Joyner, the defendant, convicted of assault, sexual assault and kidnapping, appealed claiming, inter alia, that the statute imposing the burden of establishing the defense of mental disease or defect on a criminal defendant violated the due process provisions of the state constitution. Rolling up her sleeves, Chief Justice Peters undertook a detailed historical review of the roots of the insanity defense, and of a century of understanding about due process under Connecticut's constitution and its relation to burdens of proof and elements of a crime. Delving into [Jesse] Root and [Zephaniah] Swift, as well as the modern treatise authors, she chronicled in detail the development of the insanity defense, and without breaking stride, she went on to analyze the defendant's remaining six claims before affirming the judgment.
The Chief Justice also recently wrote the majority opinion in State v. Ross, the first death penalty considered by this court in many years. That opinion, rightly, I believe, upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty without endorsing it and placed the ball squarely in the legislature's court, a result arrived at only after much debate, study, and soul searching.
No matter what field she tackles, the hallmarks of the Chief Justice's landmark opinions are clarity, sensitivity, and penetrating intellectual analysis. Her linguistic ability is legendary - quite an intimidating accomplishment for one who did not speak or write English as a primary language until she was almost ten years old!
In administration, as in judicial matters, Chief Justice Peters' intellectual ability and probing curiosity have carried the judicial branch over rugged terrain to new vistas of innovation and organization. Many of us may recall that when she was handed the judicial reins, Chief Justice Peters - and the state - faced a criminal justice system in turmoil manifested by bickering and acrimony with the state police. Yet, characteristically, she remained above the pettiness, choosing to focus instead on the duties to which she had been appointed and restored the integrity of the system. We learned then, as we know now, that her agenda, while sweeping in application, is singular in purpose: the improvement of the administration of justice. Anything that clouds that focus, inhibits that progress, or delays its achievement, soon suffers the wrath of her impatience.
And when her judicial record is driven by the power of her scholarship and intellect, her administrative record reflects her boundless energy and commitment.
The back page of your program contains a listing of the significant achievements that have occurred in the judiciary during the past decade. At the risk of ignoring some, I shall highlight others. One major theme running throughout Chief Justice Peters' administration is the recognition of the importance of diversity: diversity in the men and women of the judicial branch through her aggressive support of gender fairness and affirmative action initiatives; diversity in the partnerships with the bench, the bar, the federal judiciary, other states, academia and the public, that provide the judicial branch with new and exciting perspectives upon which it may call to shape such new programs as the Connecticut Judges Institute, the Judicial Performance Evaluation Program, the Tri-State Judicial Conference, and the network of alternate sanctions. Finally, she has recognized the importance of diversity in the judicial branch's approach to its caseload through an understanding that not all cases are alike and that our courts must adapt their procedures and processes to meet best the individual needs of litigants, examples being, the establishment of the housing court and the tax court.
By reaching out to incorporate new, diverse ideas into the judicial network, Chief Justice Peters has compiled a record whose scope and impact spans the judicial landscape.
Through the Supreme Court Visitation Program, she brought our appellate system out beyond the walls of this room, reaching into the cities and towns, the colleges and universities, the law schools and local courthouses, so that each of our citizens my have the opportunity to learn about the appellate process and to observe it firsthand.
Through the Preargument Settlement Conference Program, she utilizes the valued expertise of the former members of the Supreme and Appellate Courts to resolve issues and expedite the disposition of appeals.
Through her support of the various agencies that serve the trial court, she has recognized the judicial branch's increasing responsibilities to be a provider of human services, responsibilities that are becoming as important as its duty to adjudicate cases, and she has sought to prepare the branch adequately to meet the public's needs in these areas.
Through her unbending support for the people in the judiciary, she has demonstrated her deep concern for their health, their safety, their work environment and their professional security and, in doing so, has worked tirelessly to see that the best interests of the men and women who serve on the bench are met.
The high esteem with which she is held by her colleagues, and friends, in Connecticut and throughout the country is perhaps most evident in her election last summer to serve as president of the national Conference of Chief Justices. It should come as no surprise that shortly after her election, the National Law Journal reported that the nation's chief justices are becoming a more active and effective voice in the campaign to improve the system of justice nationwide. Perhaps this is an early sign that the nation is benefiting from the leadership that we have enjoyed for a decade in Connecticut!
Ellen, on behalf of all of your colleagues on this court, I extend to you our heartfelt congratulations on this happy occasion. Each of us looks forward to enjoying your leadership, your scholarship, and your companionship for many more years to come.
I now have the high honor and the distinct privilege of introducing the Governor of the State of Connecticut, the Honorable Lowell P. Wicker, Jr.
REMARKS BY LOWELL P. WEICKER, JR., GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
Thank you very much, Mr. Justice, Chief Justice, friends.
I do not want you to take the manner of my garb as indicating any disrespect to the Chief Justice; it's rather informal. However, immediately after this ceremony I will be thundering and thrashing through the underbrush of Shelton cutting down the Christmas tree for the state of Connecticut. This is not accomplished well in a blue suit, believe me.
So, the second comment I'd make before I get to Ellen here is that I want to be very careful in what I say, and, indeed, it will be very brief because, along with the grave financial condition of the state of Connecticut that you handed to me upon assuming office, you also managed to have me as the defendant in numerous lawsuits with the federal government and everybody that had a legitimate complaint, lodging those complaints.
I can't really, and while that was happening, in most instances, I really felt that I should be the plaintiff, not the defendant, in these suits, and I suspect that might happen, you see, once I get out of office, knowing the directions in which I go, so I want to be very careful that I don't say anything injudicious here before this very distinguished gathering.
I tell you why I like Ellen Peters: Number one, obviously, and I don't have to dwell upon this, she's just got a fine mind; one of the best I've ever seen in terms of analyzing, in terms of a steady hand. She's just great.
I also like the fact of her deep involvement with her family, who is here. Any of us who are in public service know how much that means to the proper conduct of our office. You show me a public official who is involved with a family and I'll show you somebody who is, probably, going to do a very good job in an official way. This is a wonderful family you've got here, Ellen.
And then, to take the diverse elements of our judiciary and keep everybody on the straight and narrow with their eye on the ball, that's very unique in this day and age where people go off in many different directions.
I think she really does represent the best of Connecticut in that this is the land of steady habits, but also understanding that, in order to maintain steadiness, you also have to assimilate and deal with change, and she's done that well also.
So, I indeed, am grateful that, in four very tough years, there are many things I've had to contend with, but Ellen Peters and the Supreme Court of Connecticut is not one of those matters that I had to contend with.
She is representative of one of the great Benches of this nation, and, certainly, this is a time for celebration and looking back at the past ten years as Chief Justice, sixteen and one-half years in the court, but I'm also looking forward now, on the outside looking in, to seeing what happens in the next ten years.
Thank you very much.
REMARKS OF CHIEF JUSTICE ELLEN A. PETERS
Governor Weicker, Justice Callahan, fellow judges, family and friends: Thank you all for being here!
I've been thinking back about my feelings, ten years ago, when I was first sworn in as Chief Justice. My recollection is that, in just about equal measure, I was enormously grateful for the opportunity to serve in this exciting new position and enormously apprehensive about how I would manage this awesome new responsibility.
I set myself three goals, ten years ago: survival; a day-by-day management style that would work for me; and the development of long-term programs to strengthen the role of the judicial branch in providing justice for all the litigants that bring their problems to our courts.
Survival was at the top of the agenda for the first six months. It was a little like my first years as a law school teacher, when I was frantically trying to figure out, an hour before class, why the author of the casebook had juxtaposed materials that seemed, at first, second and even third reading, to have absolutely no relationship to each other. Sooner or later, the pieces of the puzzle would begin to fit together, and so it was here. I began to learn something about the inner workings of the judicial branch and about the legislative process, especially in its budgetary aspects. I am grateful to my many mentors, throughout government, who saw me through those early days.
Finding my own management style was my next priority because I wanted very much to keep alive the opportunity for intensive intellectual engagement in the work of the Supreme Court. Writing opinions is what I came to the court to do. Each year's cases raise new and fascinating questions that can only be answered by time-consuming research followed by many hours at the computer, to see whether one's first impression can be translated into an opinion that, in the vernacular, "will write." Perhaps I was just being defensive: I can still find my way around the Uniform Commercial Code in my sleep, but the Practice Book is something else again! But I did want to continue to explore the role of common law principles of jurisprudence in a world largely dominated by statutes and to continue to define the role of a state constitution in a world increasingly dominated by federal law. How to combine all of this with management responsibilities was a challenge, especially when I also wanted, occasionally, to visit the grandchildren, to read a bad book, and even to get some sleep!
Fortunately, I was blessed with a remarkable Chief Court Administrator who was eager and able to undertake the daily management of our court system. Judge Aaron Ment has been an exemplary administrator: thoughtful, innovative, energetic and endowed with that most essential of administrative talents, a sense of humor! I cannot imagine being Chief Justice without him. Between us, we have worked out a modus vivendi in which I read a lot, and he does a lot - it has been a happy arrangement, for which I am very grateful. A similar administrative structure now exists for the appellate system as well. Appellate administration was, in the first instance, firmly and effectively managed by Judge, now Justice, Borden, and is presently in the equally capable hands of Justice Katz. In addition, my management responsibilities have been immeasurably eased by superb assistance from Patricia Friedle, formerly my executive assistant and now the chief administrative officer for the appellate system, and, for almost all my days on the court, by my wonderful invaluable secretary, Linda Dubois. Together, they have made it possible for me to have time to write opinions, and occasionally to see Andrew and Emily, Phillip and Gwen, Sarah and Katie, Elizabeth and Christopher, and Alexander and Carolyn - and their parents.
My third aspiration was to make sure that Connecticut had a court system that continues to meet the ever changing requirements of those who need judicial services, My predecessor, John Speziale, had launched us on the road to a more open and inclusive judicial branch, and that was a road that I committed myself to exploring further. Accordingly, the judicial branch has reached out to work together with members of the bar, the legislature, the executive [branch] and the public on innumerable agendas that call for the widest possible angle of vision. Our program for alternatives to incarceration would not have been acceptable without a broad based launching platform. The gender bias study would not have been credible without the participation of many women and men from all walks of life. Only an effective partnership between judicial, executive and legislative leaders could speed up the collection and disbursement of funds for child support orders and victim compensation. Even with regard to agendas that courts hold most dear, such as the framing and amendment of our Rules of Practice, we now have multi-constituency and advisory committees to help to modernize the procedural rules that govern court proceedings.
For institutions as for individuals, I am firmly persuaded that looking to the advice of others to help us to do our own job better makes sense as a matter of self-preservation. Working together helps us to see ourselves as others see us. Sometimes, working together even helps others to see us as the fallible, but well intentioned public servants that we aspire to be.
Even more important, however, we need to participate in the broader legal landscape outside our courtrooms because the responsibilities of the judiciary, these days, are no longer confined to the formal adjudication of courtroom disputes. The role of the state judiciary has changed: where we were once umpires, we have now also become managers and even players in the search for justice. In the world we now inhabit, in order to do justice in the cases that come to us, we must see to the availability of a broad range of adjunct services, ranging all the way from alternate methods of dispute resolution to alternate methods of supervising substance abusers. Although our judicial system cannot itself provide all these alternate services, we bear responsibility for assuring their credibility and their accountability.
Administrative exploration of these new responsibilities, in partnership with the private sector as well as with other branches of government, gives promise that the Connecticut judiciary will continue to be a leader among state courts. That leadership depends also, however, on the certainty that our judges will continue to protect the rights of all the parties that appear before them in each and every case. Judicial independence that enables each judge, in his or her courtroom, to make the hard call, the controversial decision, is the bedrock upon which a sound judicial system rests. I am grateful for the support and hard work of all of the Connecticut judges over these last ten years. I am especially grateful to the fifteen past and present members of the Connecticut Supreme Court for their significant contribution to our collegial search for justice during these past ten years. It is in the nature of the work that we do that we will not always agree about the outcome of a particular controversy, and so, indeed, we all dissent from time to time, some of us more than others. As I recollect, Judge Shea, the very first time that he sat with the Supreme Court by designation, dissented vigorously from the conclusion reached by the majority. Dissenting opinions are not an issue. What is essential is that we agree on our underlying mission, which is to think long and hard about the rights of the parties as they are framed by the applicable principles of our case law, our statutes and our state and federal constitutions. On that, there can be and there is no disagreement and never has been.
In closing, I want to hark back to another ceremony in this courtroom, to the day in May of 1978 when Governor Ella Grasso first swore me in as an Associate Justice of this court. Governor Grasso took quite a chance in appointing a maverick like me: no judicial experience, no practice experience, an academic, a woman, a naturalized citizen, and, even more surprising, a person whom she had never laid eyes on. She gave me a rare opportunity to perform public service just as state courts were again becoming serious contributors - players - in the service of justice. She gave me an even rarer opportunity to vindicate the irrational confidence of an immigrant child who, from the age of thirteen, hoped that she could pursue a career in the law and then was given a position of responsibility and even leadership for its development. A few months later, Governor Grasso presided over an inaugural ball to which I was escorted by a man I then hardly knew, the then dean of the Law School of the University of Connecticut, one Philip I. Blumberg, whom I have since learned to know a great deal better. I owe a lot to Governor Grasso!
On that nostalgic note, thank you again for all your support for these ten exciting years, and thank you again for being here.