Retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez is an active observer of the court drama playing out over the state takeover of city schools. She shares a commentary she penned just before court proceedings last Friday. Parties will be back in court on Monday. From Lopez:
And the disrespect for the City of Bridgeport, and all of us who live here, continues.
First, the State Board of Education voted to eliminate our elected board of education thereby demonstrating its collective contempt for the will of the people as expressed through the ballot box.
Next, the disrespect of the Executive Branch of State Government, acting through the State Board of Education, continued with the appointment of the ‘reconstituted board.’ The chairman of this new entity, who I consider a friend, is an Easton resident, and one of the members of this new Board does not even live in the state of Connecticut. Not a single Bridgeport voter has ever voted for any one of them.
However, this week we learned that the disrespect for Bridgeport and its people is not confined to the Executive Branch of State Government. The Judicial Branch has perpetuated and compounded the imperious condescension which we city residents have been forced to endure.
Four cases have been filed in state court, challenging the takeover of our school system by this corporate oligarchy. These legal actions all seek to restore the democratic rights which have been ripped from us in this cabal.
Three of these suits, brought by elected Board members, parents, and those seeking to run for the Bridgeport Board of Education should the takeover be undone by the courts, were filed in Bridgeport Superior Court. A fourth was transferred to Bridgeport after it was inadvertently filed in Hartford.
These cases directly impact our City of Bridgeport, and Bridgeport residents and taxpayers are the Plaintiffs in each of them. The Plaintiffs include parents of Dunbar School students. Yet despite the local significance of these cases, and the residences of all of the plaintiffs, the Judicial Department placed them on a conveyor belt and transferred all of them to the Judicial District of Waterbury.
This of course, is inconvenient for the parents, the parties to the action, and anyone who may wish to observe the court proceedings. On August 1, 2011, the lawyers agreed to the transfer after being informed by the Presiding Judge in the Bridgeport courthouse, Judge Barbara Bellis, that the Bridgeport court could not accommodate an immediate hearing. They were promised an expedited hearing in the Judicial District of Waterbury. These many weeks later, there has still been no hearing held and not a single witness has been called.
No one would dispute the legitimate public interest in the outcome of this unprecedented usurpation of power.
However, we now know that the judicial disrespect did not end with the transfer of these cases. On August 16, parents, parties to the action, and interested Bridgeport residents, made the 35 mile trip up Route 25 and Route 8 to the Waterbury Superior Court. A pre-hearing conference was scheduled for 9 am involving Judge Salvatore Agati and attorneys for all of the parties. This was to be followed by an evidentiary hearing at 10 am.
No hearing was ever held, and those of us from Bridgeport waited in the court room for court to open. At approximately 11:30 am, lawyers emerged from the closed door meeting and informed us that they had been ordered to return back to court on Friday, August 18th.
No explanation was given and no Judicial Order was read into the Public Record. Therefore, both the public and members of the press were left to speculate concerning what had happened and what would happen next.
Unfortunately, an inaccurate press release was issued by a mayoral campaign. This release said that a “stipulation” had been reached concerning certain facts, and that the cases would be transferred to the Connecticut Supreme Court. The court order which was subsequently entered said no such thing.
Any confusion could have been easily avoided or minimized, had judicial officials merely stated in open court, and on the record, what had occurred and what would happen next. The order which was entered by Judge Agati, which differed significantly from the campaign press release, could have been read in open court for all to hear.
This lack of a public record demonstrated no consideration for those citizens who were in attendance, and provided further evidence of state government’s disrespect for Bridgeport.
It may be recalled that following the scandal surrounding former Chief Justice William Sullivan, the new Chief Justice, formed the Public Trust and Service Commission. According to the Strategic Plan of the Judicial Department, as announced by the Public Trust and Service Commission, states that, “the Judicial Branch strives to provide ready access to accurate and timely information.”
The mission statement of the Judicial Branch states that the Branch strives to serve the interests of Justice and the public by “resolving matters brought before it in a fair, timely, efficient and open matter.”
It is clearly evident that openness and transparency have been strangers to the court proceedings in these matters.
Despite the inconvenient venue, many of us will journey to Waterbury on Friday. We hope we will witness meaningful progress in these cases and that such progress will indeed be open for all to see. If these cases are to be sent to the Supreme Court for a final decision, facts to which the parties will not stipulate must be found by Judge Agati, based upon evidence presented. This of course, will require a hearing on the record in open court. Presumably, any stipulation of the facts will also be read into the record in open court.
Hopefully, disrespect will not be on display on August 18th. It is about time Connecticut state government treated Bridgeport and its citizens, as sung by Aretha Franklin, “with a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T!”