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The courts may be open to all, but sometimes they’re no place for children. This has occasionally been a source of judicial embarrassment. For example, last spring a fourth grade class was waiting to hear arguments at the imposing Connecticut Supreme Court in Hartford. Uniformed Judicial Marshal Gary V. Crosson was on duty, and was worried. As is his custom, Crosson had read the case summaries prepared by the staff attorney’s office, and knew the upcoming case was not kids’ stuff. “It was very sexually explicit,” Crosson recalled. “It had something about DNA being on clothing.” Justice Christine S. Vertefeuille, chief administrative judge for the appellate system, took notice. “We were fortunate the marshal went over to the teacher and explained what the case was about, and suggested she might want to think about whether it was appropriate for the children to remain.” Then Vertefeuille took action. At her request, a new warning appeared on the judicial Web site and on summaries posted outside the courtroom. “Caution: Please be advised that the facts of some cases heard by the court might be upsetting to some members of the public.” The facts can be raw. In March of last year, for example, the high court heard State v. Rolon, in which a New Haven, Conn., grandfather was accused of sexually assaulting his granddaughter. Ultimately, after reviewing the troubling details, the state supreme court ruled that the trial court was wrong to exclude evidence of possible molestation by the girl’s other grandfather. Chief Justice William J. “Tocco” Sullivan endorses the new warnings. Citing Rolon as an example, he noted “if you brought in a bunch of school children from New Haven, they might know some of the people — I think it’s a good idea to put up those warnings.” IMPULSE VISIT Vertefeuille says that elementary classes sometimes arrive casually. “Generally when school classes come here they tour the legislature, the state capitol, the museum — and sometimes come into the courtroom as well. Our impression is that the court visit is sort of incidental to the overall trip,” she said. Melissa Farley, director of the external affairs division of the judicial branch, is working to create a short, interesting presentation for the supreme court, with the aid of the League of Women Voters. Sheer boredom is targeted. “Some younger kids can’t sit through an oral argument,” she said. Around the state, schools can arrange court tours through local bar associations, which have lawyers in each judicial district who can arrange to have a judge speak to groups of students, Farley said. But right now, at the Connecticut Supreme Court, there’s no organized program for visitors’ groups. After arguments Nov. 27, Jean Dullea, a supreme court assistant clerk, said she sometimes has prosecutors alert her to the graphic nature of an upcoming argument, and relays that to teachers in the audience. In other instances, argument can take a graphic turn unexpectedly, said court monitor Joy Franklin. “I think even the justices have been a little embarrassed.” Michael O. Sheehan, of New Haven’s Sheehan & Reeve, appealed Rolon, the grandfather case, last March. He couldn’t recall whether schoolchildren were still present while it was being argued. No good advocate would use generalities if specifics were needed to make the best argument for a client, Sheehan said, and creating a PG presentation is not the advocate’s job: “It’s up to the parents or teachers to decide what’s appropriate.” The presence of tender ears is no reason to restrict advocates’ arguments, said Sullivan: “While I’m chief justice, that will never happen. The litigants have the absolute right — the rest of us come after them.”

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