Long before Judge Patrick Carroll was appointed to the bench nearly two decades ago, he was answering his own phones as a solo practitioner in Fairfield.
That experience of being a one-man general practice law office and part-time proscutor from 1979 to 1996 helped Carroll develop multi-tasking skills that would prove useful later as a court administrator. Out of necessity, he pursued his interests in computers and technology as "a way to ease the administrative burden of working solo."
"I was doing my own typing and in order to be as productive as possible, I knew that I had to leverage technology," Carroll said in an interview. "I taught myself how to use technology because it made my job easier."
Carroll will continue to focus on keeping the courts up-to-date with the latest technology in his new role as chief court administrator starting October 1. He succeeds Judge Barbara Quinn, who this fall will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70. Expanding on the duties of his current role as deputy court administrator, Carroll will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the Judicial Branch.
In addition to moving toward the goal of a paperless court filing system, Carroll said the Judicial Branch will continue to look at ways to provide training and tools so judges and court staffers can do their jobs better. "I've always been big on accountability and productivity," he said.
Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers announced that Carroll would be the next chief court administrator during the annual judges' meeting in June. Quinn is working with Carroll during the transitional period leading to her retirement. Carroll, a Fairfield native, has been supporting his mentor Quinn's efforts to make the state's courts more user friendly since 2007, when he was appointed deputy chief court administrator.
In his first decade on the bench, Carroll handled civil, criminal, family and housing cases in Danbury, Norwalk, Waterbury, Milford, Derby and Bridgeport. He served for five years as the administrative judge for the Danbury Judicial District.
As deputy court administrator, much of Carroll's time has been spent improving the courts' information systems for record keeping and e-filing. "For the past six years, I've provided a supporting role to Judge Quinn," he said. "My specific duties have primarily involved the criminal side of the courts, anything dealing with the criminal justice system, such as serving on the state Criminal Justice Sentencing Commission, or serving on the Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission.
"I also took a lead on initiatives to improve the use of technology in the courts, and I did so willingly, because I think that is so important," he said.
Carroll plans on continuing to many of the initiatives that came out of a strategic plan spearheaded by Rogers and implemented by Quinn and others. The overall goal is to "to make sure the court system remains relevant in the future," Carroll said. "As the practice of law changes, I think the court system has to change as well."
Pro Se Situation
To address the changes in legal services, Carroll said that as chief court administrator he will continue to look for ways "to meet the needs of self-represented individuals." That includes expanding service centers that have been established in courthouses that provide forms and information to self-represented parties.
It also means looking for more ways to hook up self-represented parties with attorneys providing pro bono services. The aim is to reduce the time it takes for self-represented parties to resolve their cases, so judges don't spend the bulk of their time answering questions from pro se litigants.
Additionally, said Caroll, the Judicial Branch will continue to expand its court sponsored mediation programs, Carroll said, so civil cases can be resolved either by alternative dispute resolution or trial "quickly and economically."
"We have to make sure we continue to satisfy the legal needs of all users of the legal system, including members of the business community," he said.
As Carroll begins to prepare for his new job, he said another focus will be on making sure that judges have the tools they need to do their jobs as efficiently as possible. One move will be to update the courts' record-keeping computer systems. Another goal is find ways to improve support services, such as the availability of courtroom intepreters for non-English speaking parties.
"That's especially challenging in tough economic times," Caroll said. "We've got judges out there making do with what they've got, but we can't continue to have a situation where because we're short of interpreters or clerks, that we have to scramble to get things done on a daily basis. That's something I will be working on, to come up with ways to make things work better."
Much of Carroll's attention will be on what he called the "human capital of the branch." With about 4,000 employees and no plans for staff reductions, such as those that took place during the recent recession, the focus will be on improving efficiency. To that extent, he said, technology is part of the solution.
In the not-so-distant future, for instance, Carroll said he would like to see criminal court clerks be able to process all records electronically, the way their counterparts do now on the civil court side. Currently, he said, court orders in criminal court are written down on piece of paper by a clerk in the courtroom and then submitted to a separate, data entry clerk. "The paper notes are inputted into the computer system we have, using a decades-old system," Carroll said. "We want to eliminate those middle steps, so the judges themselves or the clerks can input the judgments into the system."
Also being promoted with Quinn's retirement is Superior Court Judge Elliot N. Solomon, who will succeed Carroll in the deputy's job. Both judges were appointed to the bench on the same day – March 8, 1996. They also share an appreciation for improving technology in the Judicial Branch.
Before he became a judge, Solomon worked in private practice with Hebb & Gitlin, where he was a partner. Solomon currently serves as the co-chair of the Judicial Branch's Access to Justice Commission and is a member of the Commission on Civil Court Alternative Dispute Resolution and the Family Commission. He is also chair of the Standing Committee on Video and Teleconferencing.
Most recently, Solomon served as chair of the Superior Court Rules Committee's Task Force to Study Minimum Continuing Legal Education. "We've had a great working relationship over the past 17 years, and I'm really looking forward to working more with him," Carroll said.
Solomon said that his future boss has extensive knowledge of all aspects of the Judicial Branch, and how all components of the court system function together. "We went on the bench the same day, and his leadership qualities quickly became apparent when he was designated to serve as the administrative judge for the Danbury Judicial District," Solomon said. "He is a great choice to serve as out next chief court administrator."
Willingness To Listen
Lawyers who encountered Carroll in his roles as a presiding judge and as an administrative judge describe a jurist known for his candor and approachable nature. Jeffrey Jowdy, a criminal defense lawyer with Jowdy & Jowdy in Danbury, said Carroll was one of the first judges he encountered after he graduated from law school in 1994.
"He's been a judge for as long as I've been a lawyer, and as far as a person, he's a very cordial, very affable and I imagine that is going to serve him very well in his new position," Jowdy said.
Jowdy said one of Carroll's stand-out traits was a willingness to listen. "When he was working on the bench, he was someone I always trusted, because I knew that he would look at everything I presented to him, no matter how many cases he'd presided over in a day, and now matter what time of day it was. I trusted his judgment, wholeheartedly," Jowdy said. "For a criminal defense lawyer, that's something important."
Later, when Carroll returned from an assignment in Waterbury on a criminal docket to be the administrative judge in Danbury, he was in charge of setting the dockets for other judges. In pretrial hearings as the administrative judge, he supervised hundreds of Jowdy's plea negotiations.
"He managed the criminal trial docket and he never shied away from a tough decision," Jowdy said. "He was always willing to contribute his opinion to a plea negation, which is important when you're getting into the nitty gritty of a case, it's nice for the judge to have strong opinions about how a case might be resolved."
For the next few months, Carroll said he will be working closely with Quinn to prepare for his new position.
"I think the transition is really going to be a smooth one," he said, adding that he learned a great deal working with Quinn.
"She had an incredibly even-tempered way of approaching the remarkable challenges over the last five years — furlough days for staff members, reductions of our budget — and she demonstrated to handle it all with grace," he said. "I've learned a lot from her about handling grace under pressure and I know it's going to serve me well."