After a very challenging session in 2013, this year the Connecticut General Assembly will conduct what is characterized as its short session, which will run from Feb. 5 until May 7. Although it is a tight time frame, it is expected the Judiciary Committee will address a number of issues.
Traditionally, the first order of business for the committee is to take up judicial nominations for both new judges and those who are scheduled for reappointment. In 2014, we have over 30 judges scheduled for reappointment and it is expected the governor will submit names of individuals to become new judges. On Dec. 19, the judiciary committee met and unanimously approved the nomination of Appellate Court Judge Richard Robinson to the Connecticut Supreme Court, which also leaves a vacancy on the Appellate Court to be filled by Gov. Dannel Malloy.
Also, the Judiciary Committee has been asked to review the decision by the claims commissioner dismissing the claim against the state by Charla Nash, a Stamford woman who was terribly injured in a chimpanzee attack back in February 2009. The commissioner dismissed the claim back in June, and the proper avenue for appeal is the General Assembly where the case will be presented to the Judiciary Committee.
The committee has been asked to look at other areas pertaining to lawsuits involving the state, including the common law legal doctrine of “nullum tempus occurrit regi” (no time runs against the king). The Connecticut Supreme Court held in November 2012 that the state could bring suit against contractors 12 years after construction of the University of Connecticut Law Library. The Supreme Court held the common law “nullum tempus” doctrine applies and it would be up to the legislature to change it. Those who do construction work for the state have expressed serious concerns about entering into contracts that have no statute of limitations, and we are currently looking at how other states address this issue.
Last session, the legislature heard a number of recommendations from the Connecticut Sentencing Commission. While several proposals became law last year, it is expected the Sentencing Commission will once again make recommendations to the Judiciary Committee.
The most notable of these proposals would be the reintroduction of legislation to address the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Miller v. Alabama and Graham v. Florida. In Miller, the court determined that a sentence of life without the possibility of release for those under 18 years old violates the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
In Graham, a sentencing structure that calls for life sentences of juveniles is prohibited “without a meaningful opportunity for release.” The Sentencing Commission has worked hard to come up with a response to the Supreme Court’s decisions, and the Judiciary Committee will once again raise bills for public hearings and discussion.
In recent years, the committee has looked at proposals concerning condominiums and the rights of unit owners. Legislators have discussed several options by which disputes involving condominium associations and unit owners may be brought to a special master through a mediation process, including the possible use of housing, small claims and probate courts. It is expected that the committee will hear proposals this session so that condominium disputes can have a cost-effective forum for interested parties to seek a resolution.
Since last session, a number of task forces have met involving several difficult issues, including the role of guardians ad litem in custody proceedings; freedom of information and the privacy rights of crime victims; restraining orders; and the award of alimony in dissolution of marriage cases. These task forces are using their best efforts to reach a consensus on some very challenging topics. Before session commences, they may propose legislation for the General Assembly to review during the course of the 2014 session.
We will no doubt have other proposals and requests for changes to laws that impact the citizens of our state. It continues to be a privilege to serve as cochairman of the Judiciary Committee, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to work with my fellow legislators on the critical issues facing our state.•