Attorney General: Donald A. Browne, Esq., Executive Director, Judicial Review Council, 2005-008 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

March 14, 2005

Donald A. Browne, Esq.
Executive Director
Judicial Review Council
505 Hudson Street, P.O. Box 260099
Hartford, CT 06126-0099

Dear Mr. Browne:

This letter is in response to your request for a formal legal opinion concerning the authority of the Judicial Review Council (the "Council") to initiate investigations into judicial conduct. Specifically, you question whether the Council "may proceed to independently initiate an investigation based on information discovered by the Council." Such information might "include an anonymous complaint or other information which becomes known to the Council, other than through a notarized complaint." If the Council may initiate an investigation based on such information, you question what the applicable procedures are.

As discussed below, we conclude that the Council is statutorily authorized by Conn. Gen. Stat. 51-51l to initiate an investigation into the conduct of a judge in the absence of a specific complaint, if: (1) it has reason to believe that any one of eight possible grounds for removal, suspension or censure set forth in Conn. Gen. Stat. 51-51i may have occurred; or (2) previous complaints indicate a pattern of behavior that would lead to a reasonable belief that the conduct described in section 51-51i has occurred. The procedure for such an investigation is set forth in Conn. Gen. Stat. 51-51l.

The statutes that govern the establishment and authority of the Judicial Review Council are set forth at Conn. Gen. Stat. 51-51k through 51-51u. Section 51-51l, which is entitled "Investigation of conduct of judge, compensation commissioner or family support magistrate," is directly relevant to your question. In pertinent part, 51-51l states:

Except as provided in subsection (d),1 the Judicial Review Council shall investigate every written complaint brought before it alleging conduct under section 51-51i, and may initiate an investigation of any judge, compensation commissioner or family support magistrate if (1) the council has reason to believe conduct under section 51-51i has occurred or (2) previous complaints indicate a pattern of behavior which would lead to a reasonable belief that conduct under section 51-51i has occurred.

Conn. Gen. Stat. 51-51l(a)(footnote inserted). The "conduct under section 51-51i" to which 51-51l refers consists of eight categories of behavior that constitute grounds for removal, suspension and censure. These categories are:

(1) conduct prejudicial to the impartial and effective administration of justice which brings the judicial office in disrepute; (2) wilful violation of section 51-39a or any canon of judicial ethics; (3) wilful and persistent failure to perform the duty of a judge; (4) neglectful or incompetent performance of the duties of a judge; (5) final conviction of a felony or of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude; (6) disbarment or suspension as an attorney-at-law; (7) wilful failure to file a financial statement or the filing of a fraudulent financial statement required under section 51-46a, or (8) temperament which adversely affects the orderly carriage of justice.

Conn. Gen. Stat. 51-51i.

The Connecticut Supreme Court has instructed that:

When construing a statute, we first look to its text, as directed by Public Acts 2003, No. 03-154, 1 (P.A. 03-154), which provides: "The meaning of a statute shall, in the first instance, be ascertained from the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If, after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered."

Teresa T. v. Ragalia, 272 Conn. 734, 742 (2005).

In the present case, the text of Conn. Gen. Stat. 51-51l is clear and unambiguous. Specifically, the first line of the statute authorizes the Council to conduct investigations in the following three situations:

(1) when the Council receives a "written complaint" alleging any of the eight types of misconduct set forth in 51-51i;

(2) when the Council "has reason to believe conduct under section 51-51i has occurred;" and

(3) when "previous complaints indicate a pattern of behavior which would lead to a reasonable belief that conduct under section 51-51i has occurred."

In the second situation, which is directly relevant to your question, the statute does not require the prior receipt of a complaint, but rather authorizes the Council to initiate an investigation, sua sponte, if it has reason to believe that conduct under section 51-51i has occurred. That no specific complaint is required is further confirmed by the second sentence of Section 51-51l (a), which refers to procedures to be followed after the "initiation of an investigation or receipt of such complaint," thereby indicating that the initiation of an investigation is distinct from, and need not include, the receipt of a complaint. Conn. Gen. Stat. 51-51l(a)(emphasis added).

Accordingly, based on the unambiguous text of Conn. Gen. Stat. 51-51l, we conclude that the Judicial Review Council is authorized to independently initiate an investigation based on information discovered by the Council, including information obtained through an anonymous complaint or any other source, provided the information gives the Council reason to believe that conduct set forth in 51-51i has occurred. The procedures for such an investigation are clearly set forth in detail in Conn. Gen. Stat. 51-51l and we therefore refer you to the text of the statute rather than reiterating those procedures here.

Very truly yours,


RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL


Jane R. Rosenberg
Assistant Attorney General


1Conn. Gen. Stat. 51-51l, subsection (d), is a statute of limitations provision that requires complaints to be brought within one year of the date when the alleged conduct, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have been discovered. The subsection further states that in no case may a complaint be brought more than three years from the date when the alleged conduct actually occurred.


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