Attorney General: The Honorable Kevin B. Sullivan, State of Connecticut, 2001-027 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

December 18, 2001

The Honorable Kevin B. Sullivan
Senator
State of Connecticut
Senate
Hartford, CT 06106-1591

Dear Senator Sullivan:

This letter is in response to your request for a formal legal opinion regarding the authority of the Chief Court Administrator, the Honorable Joseph Pellegrino, to eliminate the Connecticut Superior Court’s Geographical Area 16 ("G.A. 16") by closing the G.A. 16 courthouse in West Hartford and expanding the boundaries of G.A. 14 to incorporate all of the towns that are currently in G.A. 16.1 As Judge Pellegrino explained in his November 21, 2001, letter to you, he is planning to close the G.A. 16 courthouse at the close of business on December 31, 2001, and to transfer matters currently handled by that courthouse to courthouses in Hartford, New Britain and Rockville. At the same time, the towns that currently make up G.A. 16 will become part of G.A. 14. These changes are required, according to Judge Pellegrino, in order to ensure that the resources of the Judicial Branch are used in the most efficient manner possible.

You have requested our opinion as to whether Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-348(a) authorizes Judge Pellegrino to carry out this plan. Because your request raises two separate issues, namely whether the Chief Court Administrator has the power to close the G.A. 16 courthouse and whether he has the authority to eliminate a geographical area, we will address each issue in turn. As discussed below, we conclude that Judge Pellegrino has the authority both to close the G.A. 16 courthouse and to alter the boundaries of existing geographical areas so as to eliminate G.A. 16. In so concluding, we are not evaluating or approving the wisdom of the Chief Court Administrator’s plan, but rather are construing the relevant statutes to implement the language and intent of the legislature. If the legislature determines that the Chief Court Administrator should not have such powers, or exercise them in this way, it may amend the relevant statutes to specify its preferences as to location of courthouses and judicial geographical area boundaries. Such issues raise significant public policy interests implicating more than questions of judicial resources or convenience. The legislature has ceded authority over these questions to the Judicial Department, but may retrieve that power at will, as it deems wise and appropriate.

First, with regard to whether the Chief Court Administrator is authorized to close the G.A. 16 courthouse, the Connecticut General Statutes include numerous provisions that, taken collectively, support the conclusion that the Chief Court Administrator has such authority. In particular, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-164t(b) grants the Chief Court Administrator broad authority to designate the location of the courts:

The Chief Court Administrator shall assign to each division [of the Superior Court] or part thereof as many judges as he deems advisable and shall designate the holding of sessions of divisions and parts at such times and localities as he deems to be in the best interest of court business, taking into consideration the convenience of litigants and their counsel, and the efficient use of courthouse personnel and facilities.

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-164t(b)(emphasis added). By authorizing the Chief Court Administrator to designate the localities at which court sessions shall be held, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-164t(b) effectively permits the Administrator to conclude that it is in the best interest of court business, taking into consideration the efficient use of courthouse personnel and facilities, not to hold court sessions in a given location. Indeed, no courthouse space may be leased without the Chief Court Administrator’s approval. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-27a(f).

In addition to the power to designate the location of court sessions, the Chief Court Administrator has the power to designate the number and location of Superior Court offices, after consultation with the judges of the Superior Court, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-27b;2 to "assign, reassign and modify assignments of the judges of the Superior Court to any division or part of the Superior Court," Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-5a(4); to "assign, reassign or modify the assignment of such clerical personnel as he deems necessary for the efficient operation of the courts," Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-51v(f); to "assign, reassign and modify the assignments of such messengers and assistants as he deems necessary for the efficient operation of the court," Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-75(d); to order the transfer of actions from one judicial district to another, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-5a(4); and to order the transfer of actions among courthouses within a judicial district. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-348(c).

The Chief Court Administrator is also "responsible for the efficient operation of the [judicial] department" and has broad authority to "issue such orders . . . as he deems necessary to carry out his responsibilities." Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-5a; see also State v. Fuller, 56 Conn. App. 592, 631, 744 A.2d 931, cert. denied, 531 U.S. 911 (2000)(recognizing that “the chief court administrator has extensive authority over the judicial branch and all of the Superior Court judges”). Given this broad authority, including the specific power to (1) designate the location of Superior Court sessions and offices; (2) reassign judges, clerks and other court personnel; and (3) transfer cases among geographical areas and judicial districts, we conclude that the Chief Court Administrator has the requisite powers to close a courthouse such as G.A. 16.

The only limitation on the Administrator’s power to close a courthouse is set forth in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-181(a), which designates one to four towns within each judicial district in which the Superior Court is required to sit. In particular, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-181(a) states that within the judicial district of Hartford, which is composed of nineteen towns divided into four geographical areas including G.A. 16, the Superior Court must sit in Hartford.3 This means that although the Chief Court Administrator has the authority to determine where in Hartford the courthouse shall be located, he cannot eliminate the Hartford courthouse altogether. On the other hand, there is no requirement that the Superior Court sit in any other town within the judicial district of Hartford, including the Town of West Hartford. Thus, although Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-181(a) is a limitation on the Chief Court Administrator’s power to designate the location of certain courthouses, it supports the conclusion that the Chief Court Administrator is not required to maintain a courthouse in West Hartford. Accordingly, we conclude that the Chief Court Administrator is authorized to close G.A. 16.

The secondary question that you raise is whether the Administrator has the authority not only to close the courthouse, but also to eliminate G.A. 16 altogether by altering the boundaries of G.A. 14 to include all of the towns that are currently located within G.A. 16. As you note in your letter, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-348(a) concerns the Chief Court Administrator’s authority to alter the boundaries of geographical areas. In particular, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-348(a) states that:

The geographical areas of the Court of Common Pleas established pursuant to section 51-156a, revised to 1975, shall be the geographical areas of the Superior Court on July 1, 1978. The Chief Court Administrator, after consultation with the judges of the Superior Court, may alter the boundary of any geographical area to provide for a new geographical area provided that each geographical area so altered or so authorized shall remain solely within the boundary of a single judicial district.

When construing a statute, the "fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature." Doucette v. Pomes, 247 Conn. 442, 455, 724 A.2d 481 (1999). "In seeking to discern that intent, [the court] look[s] to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter." Doucette, 247 Conn. at 455; Frillici v. Town of Westport, 231 Conn. 418, 431, 650 A.2d 557 (1994).

The plain language of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-348(a) clearly authorizes the Chief Court Administrator to "alter the boundary of any geographical area to provide for a new geographical area." Because the statute requires that each geographical area so altered or authorized must remain "solely within the boundary of a single judicial district," the power to alter geographical area boundaries in order to provide for a new geographical area must, of necessity, include the power to decrease the size of a geographical area. Any other interpretation would render it impossible to add a geographical area to a judicial district and still keep all the geographical areas within the boundary of the judicial district.

Although neither the plain language of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-348(a) nor its legislative history explicitly state whether the Chief Court Administrator’s authority to diminish the size of a geographical area includes the authority to eliminate it entirely, the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision in Modern Cigarette, Inc. v. Town of Orange, 256 Conn. 105 (2001), supports a conclusion that the Administrator has such authority.

In Modern, a licensed distributor of tobacco products challenged the validity of a municipal ordinance that prohibited cigarette vending machines within the town’s borders. The plaintiff distributor argued that the ordinance was preempted by a state statute that imposed certain restrictions on the location of cigarette vending machines and permitted municipalities to impose “more restrictive conditions” on the use of vending machines than were set forth in the statute. According to the plaintiff, the fact that the statute permitted municipalities to impose more restrictive conditions on the use of cigarette vending machines than the state had imposed implied that municipalities could regulate such machines, but could not prohibit them altogether. The Connecticut Supreme Court rejected this argument, concluding that the power to regulate includes the power to prohibit and the fact that municipalities, in the exercise of their police powers, could regulate the use of vending machines in no way prevented them from prohibiting such machines altogether.

Similarly, in the present case, there is no reason to conclude that the power to alter the geographical area boundaries does not include the power to eliminate those boundaries. Just as the legislature has specified certain towns that must maintain courthouses, it could have specified that geographical areas must be maintained as well. It has chosen, however, not to do so.

Moreover, the conclusion that the Chief Court Administrator is empowered to eliminate a geographical area is consistent with, and furthers, the duty of the Administrator to promote the efficient operation of the courts. As the General Assembly has made very clear, the Chief Court Administrator is "responsible for the efficient operation of the [judicial] department," Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-5a(a)(1), and many of his decisions are required to take into consideration "the efficient use of courthouse personnel and facilities." Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-164t(b); see also Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-27b (the Administrator shall designate a sufficient number of offices of the Superior Court for the “efficient operation of the court”); Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-51v(f)(the Administrator may assign clerical personnel “as he deems necessary for the efficient operation of the courts”); Conn. Gen. Stat.§ 51-75(d)(the Administrator may assign messengers and assistants “as he deems necessary for the efficient operation of the court”). To conclude that the Chief Court Administrator is prohibited from eliminating a geographical area, despite his conclusion that the geographical area is unnecessary, would be directly contrary to the clear legislative mandate that the Chief Court Administrator utilize the resources of the Judicial Department in the most efficient manner possible.

Accordingly, we conclude that the Court Administrator has the authority not only to close the G.A. 16 courthouse, but also to eliminate G.A. 16 and to reassign the towns formerly served by G.A. 16 to another geographical area. In so concluding, we are not evaluating or approving the Chief Court Administrator’s plan, but rather are construing the relevant statutes to implement the language and intent of the legislature. If the legislature concludes that the Judicial branch should not have such powers, or wishes to substitute its own judgment on these issues, nothing in the current law would prevent it from doing so.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Jane R. Rosenberg
Assistant Attorney General

RB/jrr


1The towns that currently make up G.A. 16 are Avon, Bloomfield, Canton, Farmington and West Hartford, all of which are served by the G.A. 16 courthouse in West Hartford. G.A. 14 currently consists only of the City of Hartford, which is served by the G.A. 14 courthouse in Hartford.

2Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-27b states that: "There shall be sufficient offices of the Superior Court for the efficient operation of the court. The number and location of the offices shall be designated by the Chief Court Administrator, after consultation with the judges of the Superior Court."

3Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-181(a) states in pertinent part that:

The Superior Court shall sit continuously throughout the year, at such times and places and for such periods as are set by the Chief Court Administrator or, with the approval of the Chief Court Administrator, his designee, in the following cities or towns except as otherwise provided by law: . . . (4) in the judicial district of Hartford, at Hartford and, whenever suitable accommodations are provided without expense to the state, at Manchester; . . . .

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 51-181(a)(emphasis added).


Back to the 2001 Opinions Page
Back to Opinions Page



Content Last Modified on 6/6/2005 3:26:26 PM