Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor: Justice Explains Her Stance On Furlough Issue

The Connecticut Law Tribune

Justice Explains Her Stance On Furlough Issue EDITOR'S NOTE: Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Joette Katz sent this letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell - and shared it with the Law Tribune. Katz was one of about two dozen judges who declined to take unpaid furlough days, but changed their minds recently after being urged by Rell and Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers. Dear Governor Rell: As you know quite well, judges generally do not respond to articles in the press about themselves, their cases or their personal lives. As you also know, judges generally do not get letters from sitting governors, other than the occasional holiday greeting card. Therefore, we are also not in the habit of writing letters to governors. Because, however, I did receive a letter from you dated September 22, 2010, I think it is appropriate that I respond. Much has been stated about the decision of judges not to take furlough days. It has also been reported that we are "elite," "privileged" and some of us "recalcitrant." I imagine that the most recent letter by Chief Justice Rogers defending the reputation of judges, praising their work and that of the branch and explaining that many of us have now capitulated, goes a long way to mollify you, the press and the legislature. I am writing not to reiterate any of her sentiments as she does a fine job conveying those views on her own and certainly does not need me to reinforce them. Rather, I am writing because I have seen little discussion about why some judges initially chose not to take the furlough days. Although I do not speak for them, but only for myself, I understand that many judges made their decisions for similar reasons and am sorry that the administration could not provide any explanation for our conduct. In the fiscal year ending in June 2009, when most state employees were required to take furlough days, I voluntarily took one because I thought it was the right thing to do, and thus can be deemed to have been "cooperative." Things changed, however, in the fiscal year ending in June 2010, during which time many new judges were appointed. Specifically, in the spring of 2010, nine new judges were appointed, despite the fact that far fewer were needed, particularly at a time when courthouses in some locations and libraries in others were being targeted for closure. Nevertheless, you chose, with the approval of the legislature, to make these appointments, and although it is certainly your prerogative to make judicial appointments, the timing of these appointments was unfortunate. To be clear, my letter is not meant to disparage any of the new appointees, many of whom I have known for years as excellent and hardworking attorneys. Rather, I write to explain that this decision, which will be extremely costly to the branch and the state, is what caused me to alter my position on the issue of furlough days. Each Superior Court judge earns $146,780 per year. The average age of the nine appointees, being conservative, was 52. Should each one serve until the age 65, each will cost the branch nearly $2,000,000, assuming no raises, and not factoring in all the ancillary costs such as health insurance. Additionally, the pension costs to the state, as with all state employees, will be considerable. When the nine appointments were made last spring, I reconsidered whether I would take the three voluntary furlough days for that fiscal year, concluding that I would not. The appointment of the next four judges, just months later, solidified my views. The salaries and benefits for two of these new judges in one year would cover the cost of furloughs for all judges in that same time period. Chief Justice Rogers is responsible for managing the branch and making the adjustments necessary to accommodate all of these new and unnecessary appointments. I am not, and therefore, am not guided by the current politically coercive climate. Rather, I am disheartened by much of the media coverage, which has taken a very simplistic, naÏve and disingenuous approach to what is a more complex issue - one that requires a more nuanced consideration. I am extremely proud of the work I do and have done for over 21 years. As a senior member of the Supreme Court, I am also proud of my court and my colleagues, many of whom share my sentiments. I am sensitive to the problems Chief Justice Rogers faces and the serious financial shortages the state faces. I am also, however, equally sensitive to the additional millions of dollars that these new judicial appointments will cost the citizens for years to come, long after these much sensationalized furloughs have outlived their short-term savings. I have some familiarity with attempts to provide quick fixes to serious financial concerns as I chair the Client Security Fund, which the executive branch attempted, again along with the help of the legislative branch, to raid last year before a group of concerned attorneys challenged the effort with a lawsuit. I wish that your "outrage" with recent events had been redirected last spring before you made those appointments. In the end, I capitulated and made a commitment to take the "requisite" furlough days out of respect to Chief Justice Rogers and to you. Please do not take this fact as anything more than a sign of esteem for you both. I am grateful for the roles you both play and the dedication with which you both serve. I am equally appreciative of the decision I and many of my colleagues made in exercising their free will throughout this period -- those who chose to take the furlough days and those who chose not to. Each judge had a choice to make and each knew that selection would have consequences -- either financial or being vilified in the press. Although I respect the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, I feel that the bullying and gloating of the Hartford Courant has had the effect of silencing free speech, while also threatening the critical, though subtle, principle of judicial independence, all at further cost to the taxpayer. Joette Katz Associate Justice Connecticut Supreme Court