A Century of Justice: A Tour of the Connecticut Supreme Court

A Century of Justice: A Tour of the Connecticut Supreme Court

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alright good morning everyone welcome to the Connecticut Supreme Court
thank you all for coming this is our state’s highest court in connecticut we have a three-tiered
court system we have the Superior Court where all of
our trials happen then we have an intermediate appellate
court and then the Supreme Court this is our
highest Court it’s also called the court of last resort.
this is your last chance to get the answer you want to whatever case or question you have. this
building is over a hundred years old. everything that’s in here – the Supreme
Court, the State Library, and the Museum of
Connecticut history, used to be housed in the state capitol.
around the turn of the last century because I’ve overcrowding they commissioned this building.
The architect’s name was Donn Barber and he built this building in the beaux-art classical style and typical to that style are all the the big marble steps coming up to the building the
columns the high ceilings and the reason this building was
designed this way was to show us that important things
happen in this room and in this building. the groundbreaking happened in 1908 the cornerstone was laid in 1909 in the
building opened in 1910 Most of the workers were Italian immigrants. they were familiar with this kind of construction,
the beaux-art style’s not something we see a lot of here and so when they were building the
building they got a bunch of people who were familiar with this kind of
architecture and so the Italian immigrants built
this building in about two years without the help with
any modern machinery every one of the seven
million granite bricks was put in place by hand using pulley and
lever systems. all the materials that went into
building this building were brought here on horse-drawn wagons or anything that was brought from overseas
was brought here on ships. so for 1.4 million dollars like I said, we have seven million
granite bricks, a lot of marble, the lobby is
pink marble from Tennessee, and the stairways are marble from Genoa
and Taberna, Italy. There’s also a lot of gold – the lamps and chandeliers are gold and the other major construction material is the wood. if you guys all notice, it’s all the same color, it’s all the
same kind of wood, it all comes from our state tree. does anyone know our state tree? yes the white oak tree so as I said 1.4 million dollars a hundred years ago to build this
building. if we were to do it now it would cost us over a hundred million
dollars and it probably wouldn’t be done in two years and they would have the use of
modern machinery architect Donn Barber had two friends that he also got jobs
working on this building. the first one was a man named Francois Tonnetti. and he was a sculptor and he did those four figures I don’t know if
you saw them out front there are columns each one was 25 tons and was brought
here on horse-drawn wagon from Bari, Vermont atop those columns we have four figures and they stand for art science history
and justice now Mr. Tonnetti came into Hartford and he picked state employees and
use them as his model for those figures there was a third friend that got a a job here and he
was a painter by the name of Albert Herder. He was fairly famous at the time, not someone we
know now, but he had enough pull that he kinda bartered with the state and the state, as I said, had already spent $1.4 million on this building and so they wanted one-piece have
artwork to finish this beautiful room and so they had
commissioned that mural on the back while and the artist, like I said, he’s pretty famous at the
time so he put up a fight he said, “I wanna paint two murals for
you” and the state said “you know we already
spent all this money we can’t do it only the one.” he said “let me explain to
you, let me tell you this story” and he ended up getting his way and we
ended up with two murals. so the one on the back that had been
commissioned as well as the one on the ceiling so the one on the back wall that the
state had wanted is called “the fundamental orders 1638
1639” and what it shows is the men of our state, colony at the time, coming
together to write our fundamental orders, which were the
basis for our Constitution as well as the US Constitution. we have some pretty important
connecticut figures in this picture out front, with his hands outstretched, is
Thomas Hooker he was the lead theologian at the time
and he was the one who gave a sermon. he gave
a talk to his friends to say – we can govern ourselves we’re smart men we can agree on a set of rules that we’re all gonna follow. The
rest of the man agreed and they went on to write our
fundamental orders it actually ended up being the first written set of laws agreed upon by the men that they
were going to govern we have sitting at the table with his
head on his hand Roger Ludlowe he was the group’s
Secretary and the one that we believe actually
wrote the orders at the time in the 1630’s he was
the only attorney in the whole colony so we believe he’s
the one who had to have actually written the orders out front holding the scroll in one hand and his hat in his other hand is
John Haynes he was our state’s first governor so this was the mural that the state had
commissioned and the artist insisted on painting the
second one which is an allegory on education. Does anyone know what an allegory is? do you know? An allegory is a story and it uses fictional
characters to teach us about a real theme or idea and so this one teaches us about
education and it shows a woman who’s reading to
and teaching a young boy from the book of knowledge. they’re guarded
over by the figures of progress and wisdom. and we have two spirits were passing
down the light of learning which is chasing away ignorance and
superstition those are those two guys down in the the
shady area and the reason that the artist insisted
on painting both the murals was to show
that our justices here make their decisions based on the laws given to us by men like this, but their
understanding and their interpretation of the
laws comes from their education from all that they’ve learned from the
books that they’ve read from their families and their teachers another piece of artwork that we
have in this room are the portraits of our retired Chief
Justices in connecticut we have a mandatory
retirement age of seventy for all of our judges and
justices and like I said we have those three
levels – on the superior court when judges turn seventy they can
continue working as judge trial referees and they can
hear cases on a per diem basis that means day by
day so not every day but whenever they need
to if the state needs some help they can
work and the appellate, when those judges
hit seventy they can continue on the appellate court
or they can return to the Superior Court and the Supreme Court, once they
hit seventy they can no longer hear cases here they
can hear cases on the appellate court or on the
Superior Court so as you can see we have seven justices on this court, the one who sits in that
middle chair is our chief justice and when the Chief Justice hits seventy
here she gets a portrait commissioned and it gets hung in this room. we have two important portraits that I want to
point out up top here is justice Raymond Balwin if you had gone
into the museum, the Museum is actually named after him. he’s the only person in our state’s
history to have been governor, chief justice, and senator so he held high-ranking positions in all
three branches of government I also like to point out Chief Justice
Peters over here by the clock she was our state’s first female Chief
Justice and she was appointed by our first
female governor who was Ella Grasso. now there’s something else interesting
about Chief Justice Peters she was not a judge on a lower court before being appointed
here she was a professor, she taught law at Yale Law School and was considered to
be so brilliant that she didn’t need the experience of working on the trial court she
already knew the law. and so she could come here and do a
good job and she did and currently we have our second female
Chief Justice, Chief Justice Rogers and she was appointed by our
second female governor Jodi Rell. Now chief justice Rogers she’s got some time under her belt she’s
been here since 2007 and she will be here until I believe 2026 and then when she retires her portrait will be painted and it’ll be
hung in this position over here where chief justice Sullivan is. every single one of these portraits
will get moved one spot to the left. Chief Justice wine
over here will be removed from the wall and hung somewhere else in the building. so another interesting feature about this room, you’ll notice is that we have our state
seal on almost everything in the room. it’s
on the back of these chairs in the front its on all of the paneling, it’s on the rug, we have it of course on our flag and on the murals. So our seal has our state motto – “qui transtulit sustinet” which is latin and means “he who
transplanted still sustains” we were told many years ago by a state librarian that the reason that’s our state motto
home is that it’s an interpretation of psalm 80, I believe, from the Bible which said he who has transplanted
the vines out of Egypt so the idea is that the colonists, the
people who settled here, were religious people and they believe
that God had given them the impetus to move here and that he would continue to sustain
them which means they would continue to live
and thrive once they got here. Now we have three
grapevines on the seal and those three grapevines
stand for our first three towns. Do you guys know what those
are? Wethersfield, Windsor How about my girls in the back? Any ideas? one
more all right, we’re in the last one, Hartford alright, well, those grapevines stand for the first three
towns and they’re also used because that
psalm talks about the vines, they are a native plant they would have
been here when the colonists first got here, they could have eaten those grapes and used them to sustain themselves, and they’re also a plant that can be
transplanted so you can’t do this with everything but
with grapevines you can dig them up plant them somewhere else and if you
have sun light and water they will continue to grow. Lastly, we’ll talk about all the doors
that are in this room. so our courts in Connecticut are open to
the public you guys are sitting in the public
seating section anytime that the court is in session the
residents of Connecticut or anyone else could come in, sit in
those seats, and watch the arguments you all came in through the public
entrance way, and there’s two other doors in the room.
this door over here leads out to our attorney conference
room. so when the attorneys arguing a case are
here they can go into that room get
themselves ready for their arguments for the day go over any last-minute adjustments
they need to make, things like that. and then we have the justices door in
the back so the justices come in and out of that
door and they do everything based on
seniority so Chief Justice comes out first and she
sits right in that middle seat and then from her right to her left
alternating out the most senior justices sit closest
to her, the ones who’ve been here the longest. and the newest justices sit farthest
away and so then when they’re finished
they’ll go back out through that door and they take a vote. Now, they do this by
seniority as well the newest justices, the ones who been
here the least amount of time, vote first. and then the Chief Justice votes last now her vote’s not worth any more
than anyone else’s, all seven justices have the same weight to
their vote but she gets to assign homework – she’s
the one who decides which person in the majority is going to
write the opinion, which is going to tell everyone which
side was the winner what side they agreed with. Now they hear
cases here in the months that kids are in school they start in September and they finish up
in May. they hear cases for two weeks and then
they have a three week break where they’re reading, writing, researching, finishing up things that they had heard
in the previous term in getting ready for everything they’re
gonna hear in the next term so they’re on two weeks of three weeks
from September to May They take June and July to try and finish
up any loose ends that they have – write any
opinions that are left, and then they take August off. That’s
really their chance to get vacation. When our chief justice came, she had
decided they were going to start hearing cases
on banc which means in a panel of of seven of them previously they when they had heard cases,
sometimes only five would hear them, and only the very most serious cases got all seven, but they had decided
that when they speak with the voice of the
court that it was only fair to have all
seven present whenever they could. now this kind of takes away the
opportunity for an attorney to say well we got the luck of the draw. if we had a different panel we could’ve gotten a different answer. Now what happens here is not a trial like you guys would see on TV and there’s not a criminal defendant
standing in shackles. They argue matters of law here so a trial has already happened and one side thinks that something didn’t go
all right, there was a mistake and perhaps the
judge didn’t give the right instructions to
a jury before they made their decision, or a police officer should have read someone their rights right away and they waited until after that person
started talking those kind of errors in law are what get
brought here and there are some cases that come here
automatically. if a criminal defendant gets twenty years or more in prison that case
comes here right away as soon as it’s appealed – that
does not go to the intermediate court. and cases of election law come here right away. Cases of laws
that have not previously been decided come here right away otherwise they have
what’s called discretion they can decide if they want to hear a
case or if they’re gonna send it the
appellate court and have them start with that. You guys have any questions now? the last case that was heard here? I don’t know. they hear about a hundred forty cases a
year. they hear them, like I said, those two
weeks and they hear about two cases every morning. the cases are hour-long arguments and each side gets thirty
minutes If you guys a look at that podium, it is
normally out front in the middle of this table and there’s lights on top of it. the
arguments are timed they last exactly one hour. there’s a white light that goes on when you’re 30
minutes is started, a yellow light goes on to warn you when you
have two minutes left, and then a red light will go on and warn
you that your time is up there’s also a digital clock that time that ticks down. if you’re in the middle the sentence you
can ask the Chief Justice “your honor may I
please finish my sentence” she can let you finish, or not at the US Supreme Court you don’t have
that option. if your time ends and you’re in the
middle of a sentence you’re outta luck. here they’re a little
more flexible with that So during the hour that your allotted, really the justices
consider it to be their time not the attorneys time. they’ve already filed what’s called
briefs so they’ve already presented their arguments the justices have read them. they know
what’s going to be presented and so the justices use this time
to clarify any questions that they might have. And so someone’s up there giving his or her 30-minute presentation maybe they’ve just started or they’re
really on a roll and they’re really getting into it and then
the justices interrupt and ask them a question. They
need to stop, answer the question, and be able to pick
right up where they left off so the attorneys who
come here are very well practiced, they know what
they’re doing and any last minute nerves that they had
they shook off, lost them, left them in the attorney
conference room. and so when they’re here they really
have to know their arguments inside and out. they can
cite cases and there’s a thing called precedent which means that if the case had
previously been heard and ruled on the justices have to
follow that have to keep their answer the same and
so an attorney who’s here can say you
should agree with my argument because you agreed with attorney Browns
argument in 1994 and our arguments are the same. If you
guys see all those books up front those are all published opinions and so the justices can have one of
their clerks open up one of those books find the case
that’s being cited and look at it and say yes you’re right
we agreed with brown therefore we must agree with you and so those books are the tan books with the red and black
ribbons there’s also blue books out there, which you probably can’t tell from here
they’re not hard bound those are the special acts passed by the legislature. and so those are constantly changing and
those are kept here to make sure that the justices are following the most recent up-to-date version of the
law we have questions?
“what’s the
most famous case that’s been heard here?” actually we have the national park system is coming in August, we had Griswold vs. Connecticut,
which and I wish I knew more about this now Griswold vs. Connecticut was a birth control issue and Planned Parenthood had taken part in
it and this court ruled on it, they also ruled on same-sex marriage they ruled in favor of it before our US
Supreme Court did. I think the last case from this
court that ended up at our US Supreme Court was Kelo vs. New London. That was an eminent domain case that was in 2005 I believe and so there have been some landmark decisions in Connecticut. So do you guys
have you heard of the idea of being admitted to the
bar? so after you go to college for four years if you wanna
be a lawyer you have to go to law school for three
years and then you take what’s called the bar exam it’s a very difficult test you have to study for a
long time and once you pass the bar exam you’re
considered an attorney and that allows you to pass the bar in a courtroom. And this piece of wood that runs all across the room you’ll see that in any courtroom and that’s the bar. and it separates the attorneys in the
case from the general public. so once you’ve
passed the bar exam you can physically pass the bar in a court. “you said
the public could sit here during any case, do you have to get reservation?” you don’t it’s open to the public. we can fit I think about a hundred
people in here in general, unless it’s something really
contentious generally don’t have to worry
about getting a seat. and all of our cases in Connecticut, with the exception of
juvenile cases and family cases, are open to the public where did you guys come here from
today ? Okay, so, in Rocky Hill, your local courthouse is New Britain. so anytime there is something going on the lawsuit about the nursing home just took place actually in Hartford
and New Britain and that was open to the public you guys can
go to any hearing and it’s the same here it’s open to the public. The last case
that really filled the room was, there were a couple um that one filled the room, but we had a case of two inmates who had been sentenced, well first they were sentenced to death and then
they were sentenced to life and they appealed their conviction
here and their names were Taylor and Gould and there, the main witness against them changed her mind – she decided she thought
she had seen them but really she never did and so that was a big case. And one of the men was had stage four
cancer and so it was very important that the justices decide, and decide quickly, because these
men’s lives where at stake and that filled the
courtroom pretty well. and I said election law comes here automatically – there was case a couple years ago with Susan Bysiewicz. where she wanted to run for attorney
general and someone said you don’t have the
qualifications for that and they came and argued that here and
that was pretty well filled. and she had, as you guys see, we have
chairs in front of the bar so we have two sets
of chairs generally any argument that happens has two attorneys for either side you can
bring more I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone just
do stand by him or herself and generally it’s two at a time but any other parties associated with
the case would be able to come and sit up here if
they were attorneys so when Susan Bysiewicz was here it was
the only time I ever saw I think every single one of these chairs was filled because she had a whole group of fellow politicians and attorneys with her anything else? “I see the camera here, so you videotape these?” Certain meetings as well as certain cases are videotaped and
that’s at all levels and we recently opened a pilot program which
allows cameras into our
criminal court to videotape proceedings and there are restrictions on it where as as members of the public you guys could
go into any criminal case in the state. when there is a matter of a camera, they may not
go into any case -any sexual assaults, we don’t allow cameras in for and any case involving what’s called the youthful offender,
someone who may end up having his or her record
cleaned, we don’t allow cameras in for that and so there are some restrictions again that’s the judge’s discretion so sometimes
there’s a case where its a kidnapping of a child and one judge will say yes the cameras
can come in another judge may decide it’s not okay and but the media has to request to have a camera in place. there certain
rules that they have to follow and they cannot take pictures or videos of the general public so if you came to
watch a case that day if you were a friend of someone, or just lived in the community, you
would not be able to be video taped there’s certain things that we don’t
allow like if a defendant is in shackles and leg irons if they’re in hand handcuffs we try to not get those
things taped because it makes you look guilty it prejudices the the pool against you, so there are
certain rules on what they can do. but the court has made efforts to be
transparent to do everything in the view of the
public so that for anyone who doesn’t come to court
they still have the opportunity to see what’s gone on that day well if you guys don’t have
any more questions thank you so much for coming I
hope you enjoy the rest your day

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