OPINION: Connecticut can’t afford more judges

OPINION: Connecticut can’t afford more judges



Some people believe that, whenever practical, government should be run like a private business. One striving, not to make a profit, but rather to provide for its customers’ (aka residents’) basic needs; to reasonably plan for future basic needs; to responsibly calculate the taxes demanded to meet those needs; and spending those funds in a frugal manner. I happen to be one of these people.

From time to time, private business owners recognize a need to increase their staff.  This can be for various reasons, but usually to support an anticipated and/or existing increase in business. Typically, the boss will look at the books, gauge the upcoming revenue due to present levels of staffing, and do a cost-benefit analysis before making decisions for increasing employees. Otherwise, the business will soon be no longer. Once the hiring needs are established, the boss will advertise, interview and hire its new employees. Thereafter, if the demand for the product shrinks, the private employer will reduce its workforce accordingly or perhaps delay the implementation of some of the new hires until it makes more sense financially.

Connecticut is hardly run like a business. Case in point: this past session, when Governor Malloy, in one of his parting gifts to the residents of Connecticut, nominated 31 individuals to become new judges of the Superior Court. 

During the confirmation process, Judge Patrick Carroll, III who is chief court administrator of the Judicial Branch (the “boss” so to speak), was asked about the nominations. (Understand that hiring a new judge is not as simple as adding one person to the payroll, and providing office space. In fact, judges need and rely on a series of support staff to help them handle their assigned caseload. That support staff would also need to be added to the state employment ranks and would receive financial compensation for their work.)

Judge Carroll said that because of present budget constraints, the Judicial Branch does not have the support staff (i.e., clerks, marshals, and court reporters) for the present judges, let alone for all these new judges. Further, that some court proceedings were being postponed due to this lack of support staff. He also noted that court caseloads have declined in recent years (reducing the need for judges) and that adding all these new judges will put the branch into deficit. “Simply put, we cannot afford 30 more judges right now,’’ he said. Indeed, during the coverage of the legislative proceedings, CTnewsjunkie.com reported that the cost for a Superior Court judge (including salary and support staff but excluding benefits) as being $291,410 annually, thus more than $8.74 million for these 31 new judges. 

Nonetheless, in the waning days of this past session, all 31 of Governor Malloy’s judicial nominations were confirmed. Please know that the House Republicans voted against these judges, whereas the House Democrats voted in favor. Yes, a few Democrats voted against a handful, apparently merely to be able to claim back home that they have some form of fiscal restraint, but basically all 31 of these new state employees were hired along party lines.

Think about that for a moment.  With our state in constant fiscal distress, and with the chief court administrator saying that our courts cannot handle the extra staffing requirements or costs, Governor Malloy and his Democratic co-conspirators in the House of Representatives decided to add 31 new judges and spend millions of taxpayer dollars anyway — choosing to make government bigger, and essentially forcing dozens of additional new state employees onto the taxpayers of Connecticut at a time when we simply cannot afford them. 

Me? I consistently opposed them all, without question. From my perspective, it was not because the nominees were unqualified (in fact, I happen to know a few of them, and believe that they will make fine jurists) rather, my blanket opposition was simple recognition of the fiscal mess that Connecticut has been in, and continues to be in, with no end in sight.

So, as we look to the November elections, and you have an opportunity to question your incumbent state representatives, please ask them: “Did you vote for any of these new judges?” “How many?” “Why?” and “Where is the money for them and their newly needed support staff to come from?” Meanwhile, I will be looking at the state’s books, head in hand, trying to figure out how we can possibly address the $3.5 billion deficit that Connecticut is projected to face over the next two years. 

Craig Fishbein is serving in his first term as a State Representative (R-90), representing portions of Cheshire and Wallingford. He is also a member of the Wallingford Town Council, serving in his fifth term.


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