March 17, 2014
By Judge Thomas W. Weissmuller (Ret.), Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Connecticut
Connecticut Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers recently acknowledged in The Hartford Courant, there should be established guidelines for appointing guardians ad litem; there must be a mechanism for holding guardians ad litem accountable, including a method to limit their fees or remove them for failing to complete their required tasks in accordance with their orders of appointment; Guardians ad litem should be subject to a published code of conduct.
Connecticut legal pundit, Norm Pattis, has been joined by many members of the bar and the general public in criticizing the Chief Justice. She refuses to acknowledge that the system is broken.
I commend her and thank her for making a public statement to support the initiative National Parents Organization has been furthering for more than a year. If not artfully crafted, Chief Justice Rogers’ commentary could have subjected her to attack by any detractors within the family bar. The Connecticut family bar has taken a strong stand against family court reform. It came under attack for sponsoring two full-time Guardians ad litem to chair the legislative Task Force to Review Child Custody Matters. It has been backed into a corner and it is fighting for its life.
My children have suffered at the hands of the Connecticut family court system; so I understand why people are quick to attack Chief Justice Rogers for her statement that the system is “not broken. ” If the system is actually designed to harm our children, we will be justified in condemning the head of that system. To interpret Chief Justice Rogers’ statement in this manner is wholly unfair.
I write to support the Chief Justice because I have served as a chief presiding judge and understand the limitations imposed by the Judicial Code of Conduct. I have presided over more than one thousand family related cases in nearly fifteen years of trial service in a foreign jurisdiction; and I have faced heat when I have publicly criticized obvious shortcomings in the judicial system.
The Chief Justice is charged with implementing policy via three basic means. First, as the leader of the judicial branch, she educates the other branches of government about judicial needs, including the impact legislation may have on court operations. Second, she refines judicial policy within the judicial branch itself as she directly oversees the various administrative divisions. Third, she may define and refine specific policy and law within supreme court opinions.
Chief Justice Rogers has chosen to comment publicly. She may do this, provided she does not impugn the integrity of the court system. She must always maintain judicial independence and avoid the appearance of impropriety. She may not pound her shoe on a bully pulpit like a legislator. If she states that the system is broken, she directly impugns the system. Let us not condemn Chief Justice Rogers for her acknowledgment that GALs operate without sufficient regulatory oversight. Let us thank her for joining in our cause to accomplish that end.
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