Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase Rogers, a champion of openness in Connecticut’s court system, will retire next week after 20 years on the bench, including 10 as the court’s second-ever female chief justice.
While not quite ready to say what her next job will be, Rogers said in an interview this week that she will continue to lend her voice to issues related to children’s rights, public trust of the judiciary and fighting human trafficking.
The 61-year-old jurist said she’s proud of her efforts in making the court more transparent, including supporting cameras in the courtroom and working with entities such as the Judicial Media Committee.
“I really do not come predisposed as to how I think a matter should be resolved,” Rogers said in an interview. “I’ve worked hard to be a good listener and I think people would describe my demeanor as calm.”
Rogers’ opinions over the years have included a 2016 ruling that emails between state lawyers and state agencies are not privileged, as well as a decision last year that the state Department of Children and Families may not vaccinate children in state custody without parental approval.
Beginning her career as an attorney at Cummings & Lockwood, Rogers rose to partner in 1991. In 1998, she was named a Superior Court judge, spending much of her time in Fairfield County, presiding over juvenile matters in Bridgeport and for the regional Child Protection Session in Middletown.
In 2006, Rogers was sworn in as an Appellate Court judge, and on April 25, 2007, Gov. Jodi Rell nominated her to be chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court. In 2015, Gov. Dannel Malloy nominated Rogers to a second eight-year term, but in an email last November to Judicial Branch staff, she noted that her vision from the beginning was to complete a 10-year stint on the court.
“When I began my tenure in 2007, I told my family and close friends that I thought 10 years in a position of leadership was just about right,” Rogers wrote. “I continue to believe that, and therefore, have decided to move on to new tasks before I overstay my welcome.”
Rogers was appointed to the State Justice Institute’s board of directors in 2010 by President Barack Obama, and was elected chairwoman on June 13, 2016. She has served on an advisory committee for the National Center for State Courts Expanding Court Access to Justice Project and the Conference of Chief Justices Civil Justice Initiative Committee.
In addition to her law degree from Boston University School of Law in 1983, Rogers has received honorary doctor of laws degrees from Quinnipiac University School of Law and the University of Hartford. Rogers has been an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law since 2012.
Rogers sat down for a quick Q&A Monday at her office in the Connecticut Supreme Court building in Hartford.
Q: In your 20 years as a judge, what cases have impacted you most?
A: I would say that it’s not one specific case, but rather the juvenile cases I handled both in the regional child protection docket in Middletown and also cases we’ve seen here.
The termination-of-parents-rights cases are, in my view, the toughest cases to decide. There is an emotional component there, but you also have to keep your eye on the ball and do what’s right with the laws you are dealing with. Young children who have not had a good life to that point will be impacted by the decision you make going forward.
Q: Take us behind the scenes of the Connecticut Supreme Court. Tell us how you delegate authority as chief justice and how it’s determined who writes the decisions?
A: I am one of seven votes and my role is, primarily, to make sure the business of the court keeps moving in an efficient manner. I primarily assign the cases based on where anybody is at at any given time with their workload so we can keep the cases moving.
Once we know who is in the majority of a particular case based on the preliminary vote, then I will look at where people are in their assignment of cases currently and to see whether they can take on more work and the case will then go to that person.
Q: How have you noticed any differences between male and female justices’ perspectives?
A: We all bring our life experiences to the bench and we will be looking at cases through that lens, which is why I feel so strongly that diversity is so important on the bench.
Diversity is important because those life experiences give everyone different ways of looking at things. The more people you have with different perspectives talking about a particular matter, the more helpful it is. My experiences, though, has not been that men and women decide these cases differently.
Q: What are some personality traits that are frowned on by the justices?
A: No. 1, you have to be honest about what the record is and what the law is. If you are not honest that will create problems for you, not just in that case but in cases moving forward because the judges will remember who was dishonest with them in a hearing.
That would be the No. 1 criteria. I think lack of preparation is also a real problem for us because we want to know what the record is and we want to know what their understanding of the law is. In 99 percent of the cases, people are well prepared. But it really stands out when someone is not thoroughly prepared. If they are not prepared, we will move on to another question. It’s just not doing a service to your clients.
Q: What is your advice for an attorney making his or her first appearance before the Connecticut Supreme Court?
A: One thing I would strongly recommend is that they come and watch a few arguments before they actually have their own arguments. That way, they can see what the process is and will be more comfortable with the process.
The other thing I would remind them is we are not here trying to trick you. We are really here trying to understand what the case is about and what the law is.
Do your yoga breathing, come in and have a dialogue with us. We are not out to get you. I think one of the major things is also practicing beforehand—have somebody ask questions so you actually go through that process.
Q: Is there a category of cases you prefer to hear?
A: I had been a civil commercial lawyer before I went on the bench, and what I found is that I really liked all of the different areas that I was confronted with in those cases.
I really enjoyed the juvenile work that I did, I found it really interesting and hard and great for learning how to make decisions. I think the hope is that you are really going to help some people with their future. There is something fulfilling about that.