Monday, March 19, 2018

What To Do About State Unions

Jim Powell asked in an eye-opening piece in Forbes magazine 67 months ago, “How Did Rich Connecticut Morph Into One Of America's Worst Performing Economies?"

A partial answer, freighted with supportive data, has now been advanced in a piece commissioned by The Yankee Institute titled “Above the Law: How Government Unions’ Extralegal Privileges Are Harming Public Employees, Taxpayers And The State." 

Everyone, both inside and outside the state, is intimately familiar with the bad news most of us have internally affirmed during the past few decades. Consider the rise in the Connecticut’s “fixed costs,” a fixed cost being one that can be reduced only by extraordinary, politically unlikely efforts: “In 2006, fixed costs constituted only 37 percent of the state’s budget; by 2018 that amount was 53 percent.” In 2016, the Census Bureau reported that Connecticut was one of only eight states to lose population. Fixed costs are strangling the state’s economy and pushing taxpayers and workers out of state.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

McDonald And The Art Of Victimology

Governor Dannel Malloy’s Nominee for Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, Justice Andrew McDonald, was sent to the General Assembly with a negative recommendation. The nomination  passed in the House by one vote, where Democrats have a six member edge over Republicans, and is now headed towards the Senate, which is split 20-20 among Democrats and Republicans.

The Republican leader in the Senate, Len Fasano, said on a radio talk show recently that he is inclined to vote down the nomination.  After viewing all McDonald's opinions -- and also interviewing McDonald -- Fasano feels that McDonald is prone to affirming a possibly flawed decision if the decision contains a partial narrative that supports his apriori views. For instance, McDonald believes that the death penalty may be racist because it falls disproportionately on blacks, a doubtful datum. If a decision to abolish the death penalty supported that view, McDonald would be inclined to support it. That mode of interpretation violates judicial norms and is reason enough to vote down McDonald's nomination. Is Fasano right?

Monday, March 12, 2018

McDonald And Connecticut’s Indentured Supreme Court

Objective court watchers may be amused by the notion that Connecticut’s Supreme Court has become politicized, especially since the court for some time has shown itself to be the indentured servant of the left wing of the Democrat dominated General Assembly.

As proof of this proposition, one need look no further than Governor Dannel Malloy’s choice for Chief Justice, recently approved by one vote in Connecticut’s House of Representatives. The McDonald nomination now moves to the State Senate, where confirmation is more doubtful.

In addition to being gay – a major plus in Connecticut, as witness McDonald’s unimpeded elevation from Director of Legal Affairs for the City of Stamford from 1999 to 2002, to Stamford Representative in the General Assembly from 1991 to 2003, to co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, along with Mike Lawlor, to Justice of the Supreme Court – McDonald has shown himself to be a committed partisan Democrat ideologue whose political attachment to Malloy, the most progressive chief executive in living memory, never wavered.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Judge Norko, Let us Now Praise…

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is a book written by James Agee containing photographs by Walker Evans. In 1936, they traveled to Alabama to report on three tenant farming families. Their original story, only recently unearthed, never ran, but Agee continued to work on the project, and in 1941 Agee and Evans published their book, now itself famous as a literary work of art. Poverty and struggle had found a voice.

The title of the book was taken from Ecclesiastics: “Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies: Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions.”

Agee had turned the passage on its head. The book he and Evans produced was not about rulers; its subject was the subjects of rulers, the poor of Alabama, the forgotten of the earth, who were in a different sense noble, their pain suppurating through their poverty like the waters of a spring: “The spring is not cowled so deeply under the hill that the water is brilliant and nervy, seeming to break in the mouth like crystals, as spring water can: it is about the temper of faucet water, and tastes slack and faintly sad, as if just short of stale. It is not quite tepid, however, and it does not seem to taste of sweat and sickness, as the water does which the Woods family have to use.”

Judge Raymond Norko, who retired from the bench on March 10th, is the opposite of pontifical, as anyone who knows him will testify, and he is slightly uncomfortable in the presence of praise. Yet, for the people in his courtroom who bade him farewell when he left his post as the presiding judge of the Hartford Community Court, Norko is the wise counselor of Ecclesiastics. Wisdom knows that the rich spring of justice, tempered always as it must be by mercy, lies within the heart of the just judge. One acquires wisdom though understanding, and understanding through modesty; one must stoop to enter the door of wisdom that lies always above us. This is the true meaning of understanding.

In a brief farewell message, Norko wrote, “I am writing to let you know that, after thirty-three years on the bench, I am retiring on March 10. It has been my honor to serve the people of Connecticut, in particular the people of Hartford, as a Judge of the Superior Court. Since 1985, I have served on cases ranging from motor vehicle to capital felonies; I’ve seen the very best and the very worst of human nature from my place on the bench. It has been an exciting journey, one that I have learned a great deal from. I am perhaps most proud of my service during the development and continued success of the Hartford Community Court. When I was first asked to lead the development of the Hartford Community Court in 1997, I said no. It was a radical concept, with only two other community courts in the nation at that time, and I wasn’t sure it would work. After thinking about it for a short time, and seeing the commitment of the community, the Judicial Branch and our other partners, I felt that we could make a big difference in our city and our courts, and decided to accept the challenge. Happily, it has been an extremely rewarding experience and, over 18 years since opening, the Hartford Community Court remains vital.”

During a farewell party in the Hartford Community Court building, dozens of people stepped forward to commend Norko, who had shaped the court from its inception.  The crowd was an assembly of pilgrims marching toward Canterbury, each bearing a singular tale.

One woman told the famous story of the ice cream truck, an account of which appeared in People Magazine. The ice cream truck was the terror of the neighborhood – loud, insistent, rude, its message and bells tearing the peace of the community. She brought the matter to Norko’s attention. We need a judge who is for us, the woman pleaded.  The court intervened and convinced the driver to lower his decibels and reduce the repetitive message to, say, one message per block. Almost two decades later, the lady still marveled that Norko had intervened, quickly and decisively. Sometimes justice marches on cat paws to its appointed destination.

The judge who will preside over the Hartford Community Court now that Norko has resigned, the Honorable Tammy Geathers, told her own story. She first met Norko under stressful circumstances. As a relatively new public defender, a wheelbarrow full of cases was dumped on her desk. She found herself summoned to court to argue a case she thought had been postponed.  Silently stewing over the mix up, she was a little abashed and astonished to find that Norko was that day presiding over the case. “Are you prepared to argue this case?” he asked. She briefly explained why she was not prepared. “This case will be postponed,” Norko said, “until you have been given a chance to prepare for it.” Much later in her career, she was asked during an interview to name someone she might wish to emulate as a judge. Instantly she responded – Judge Raymond Norko. Sometimes fate is kind; that is exactly what happened.

The court under Norko’s hand has been very busy. “Since 1998,” Norko wrote in his farewell message, “we have handled more than 154,000 arraignments, more than 568,000 hours of community service has been performed (at a value of $4,389,035 based on minimum wage at the time the work was performed) and tens of thousands of social service referrals have been made.”  In addition, the court has had a very long reach: “I am also proud that the Hartford Community Court has become an international model for other communities looking to develop their own community courts. In 2009 and 2014, the US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Center for Court Innovation selected Hartford as one of four recognized mentor courts. We have hosted visitors from throughout the United States, and we have had visitors from across the globe including Australia, China, Ukraine, France, Japan, Peru, Russia, Cape Verde, Columbia, Sweden, India and the Slovak Republic amongst many more.”

The principal lesson drawn from both Ecclesiastics and the Walker-Evans book is this: Justice seen from the outside and justice experienced from the inside are different. Wisdom and true justice lies in the reconciliation of these differences. The dozens of people who bade farewell to the architect of the Hartford Community Court, all offering their own stories, have good reason to hope that true justice will prevail in a court constructed by so wise a counselor.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Democrat’s Bête Noire, The NRA

Mayor of Hartford Luke Bronin, once Governor Dannel Malloy’s Chief Counsel, has declared war on the National Rifle Association (NRA). Democrats running for high office in the upcoming elections will likely follow suit, mostly because they dare not defend the rapacious policies of Governor Dannel Malloy, the nominal head of the state Democratic Party, and they need a distraction sufficient to beguile a public that already has voted against Malloy’s policies with its feet.  The national anti-NRA campaign script, widely vetted in the northeast and California, reached Connecticut politicians early on. In fact, they had a hand in its construction.

Only recently Malloy condemned the NRA in what might be termed politically pornographic terms. The NRA has become in essence, Malloy said, “a terrorist organization."

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Sarsour At UConn

Ben Shapiro has come and gone. UConn alumni – students who have grown up – will be pleased to hear that there were no untoward incidents during his appearance at their university. Shapiro’s bona fides are impressive. He is a conservative political commentator, columnist, radio talk show host, lawyer, editor in chief of The Daily Wire, which he founded, and the author of Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth, a book he began writing when he was 17 years old. And he is visibly Jewish, a point that will become increasingly relevant as this column progresses.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Chris Murphy’s New Pal

President Donald Trump recently called to the White House one of his most acerbic critics, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, to chat about gun control and school safety; the two are not at all the same thing. Murphy could hardly refuse. Trump wanted Murphy to shape, in concert with others, a national package that might help to prevent the slaughter of innocents in schools and also the victims of gun violence in our large cities, the nation’s shooting galleries, a “comprehensive” reform of gun laws that would ameliorate conditions in cities such as Chicago, former President Barack Obama’s abandoned haunt, and school kids left at the mercy of gun toting mass murderers.

Murphy and his confederate in the congress, Connecticut Senator Dick Blumenthal, had persistently denounced Trump as “eccentric,” and touched with madness, accusations laundered through Connecticut’s media that have been temporarily shelved now that the madman is making cooing gestures in Murphy’s direction; for, really, how could a madman be  both mad, when he is fighting excessive regulations, business destroying taxes, and the baneful effects of a dying Obamacare wreck,   and yet sane when he is cooing in the direction of Murphy and Blumenthal on the matter of gun control?

Thursday, March 01, 2018

McDonald And The Gay Question

The question has been asked: Should Governor Dannel Malloy’s appointment of Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald as Connecticut’s Chief Justice be rejected because McDonald is gay?

The answer is no, and it is highly unlikely in Connecticut’s Democratic top-heavy General Assembly that the nomination would be rejected for such a reason. The flip side of the question is: Should the General Assembly approve Malloy’s nomination because McDonald is gay? The answer is no.

On the gay question, it should be noted, Republican legislators have been accommodating. Connecticut legislators in 2009 agreed to replace all statutory references to marriage with gender-neutral language, a variant of a bill sponsored by McDonald and his Judiciary Committee co-chair in the House, Mike Lawlor, who, like McDonald, also is openly gay. The General Assembly voted to approve the measure – 100-44 in the House and 28-7 in the Senate. At first promising a veto, Republican Governor Jodi Rell signed the bill into law in April of that year.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Connecticut, California East?

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of a passionate intensity” – WB Yeats

The Politico story came as a shock to no one: “California Democrats decline to endorse Feinstein.”

Connecticut has been blue roughly forever; ditto California, the political eagle’s nest of moderate Democrats turned progressive. Senator Dianne Feinstein, long a Democrat moderate, did not convert quickly enough. Then too, progressives, full of a passionate intensity, find protestations of progressivism dripping from the lips of moderate, long-serving Democrat political fixtures sadly wanting. If tomorrow Feinstein said she was backing a recent move to withdraw California from the union – a prospect eagerly awaited by national conservatives -- no one on the progressive side of the political barricades in California would believe her. Lions want red meat, not well cured moderate puff pastries.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Down The Rabbit Hole, A Book Review

Down the Rabbit Hole
How the Culture of Corrections Encourages Crime
by Brent McCall & Michael Liebowitz
Available at Amazon
Price: $12.95/softcover, 337 pages

 Down the Rabbit Hole: How the Culture of Corrections Encourages Crime,” a penological eye-opener, is written by two Connecticut prisoners, Brent McCall and Michael Liebowitz. Their book is an analytical work, not merely a page-turner prison drama, and it provides serious answers to the question: Why is reoffending a more likely outcome than rehabilitation in the wake of a prison sentence?

The multiple answers to this central question are not at all obvious. Before picking up the book, the reader would be well advised to shed his preconceptions and also slough off the highly misleading claims of prison officials concerning the efficacy of programs developed by dusty old experts who have never had an honest discussion with a real convict. Some of the experts are more convincing cons than the cons, possibly because prisoners, many of them victims of programs that do not reduce recidivism rates, are not credentialed. Most people in prison are graduates of the school of hard knocks, not Harvard.