OLR Bill Analysis

sSB 1033

AN ACT CONCERNING COURT OPERATIONS.

SUMMARY:

This bill makes a number of unrelated changes in court procedures and operations. Among other things, it:

1. eliminates a requirement that a municipality file a statement with the court indicating that it will pay any final judgment against one of its employees, in certain situations;

2. gives the courts authority to return cases appealing certain municipal decisions to the municipal official, board, or commission that made the decision for further proceedings;

3. allows family support referees to perform marriages and validates certain marriages they performed without this explicit statutory authority;

4. allows a judicial marshal to serve a copy of a capias order (an order to take a person into custody) issued by a court or family support magistrate for a child support obligor found to be in contempt or an obligor or witness who failed to appear at a hearing, when the person is either in the marshal's custody or present in the courthouse where the marshal provides security (currently, judicial marshals can only serve original orders and not copies)( 6);

5. replaces certain provisions requiring a bond or recognizance from a party in a civil action with new provisions prohibiting them, unless a court finds good cause;

6. eliminates the duty of (a) court clerks to file copies of Superior Court decisions with the Reporter of Judicial Decisions; (b) the reporter to select decisions for publication and create digests of them; and (c) Commission on Official Legal Publications to publish the selected cases and digests (apparently, digests have not been published since the 1980s)( 8, 11-13, & 27);

7. eliminates a requirement that the Superior Court judges appoint one skillful stenographer as the official court reporter for the Superior Court in each judicial district and as many stenographers and assistant court reporters as necessary for the courts' business, and instead requires them to appoint court reporters as necessary for the courts' business ( 9);

8. prohibits a defendant from applying to the Sentence Review Division when his or her plea agreement included a maximum prison sentence and allowed the defendant to request a lower term;

9. eliminates certain court fees related to civil protection orders;

10. allows someone subject to a restraining or civil protection order to have certain legal documents served on the person protected by the order without being criminally liable for violating the order;

11. requires use of an Office of Chief Court Administrator-prescribed form, rather than one approved by court rules, when notifying victims of a defendant's application to participate in one of the following programs that allow the defendant to avoid a conviction: accelerated rehabilitation, pretrial alcohol education, and pretrial supervised diversion for people with psychiatric disabilities ( 20-22);

12. excludes life insurance benefits from the type of insurance benefits the Office of Victim Services (OVS) or a victim compensation commissioner can consider when determining the appropriate compensation to pay a crime victim; and

13. requires the Litchfield Judicial District Superior Court clerk to pay the Warren Cemetery Association treasurer the balance of a fund the clerk holds in trust under a 1917 special act, thus eliminating the clerk's responsibility for the fund.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2015, except the provisions on family support referees performing marriages take effect upon passage.

1 — CASES INVOLVING INDEMNIFICATION OF MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES

In most circumstances, the law requires municipalities to pay, on behalf of their employees, any damages the employees are obligated to pay in an action for infringing a person's civil rights or causing physical damage to a person or property within the performance of their duties and within the scope of their employment.

By law, the same attorney can represent the municipality and employee. The bill eliminates a (1) requirement that the municipality file a statement with the court indicating that it will pay any final judgment against the employee and (2) prohibition on the attorney mentioning the statement during trial.

2-3 — COURT AUTHORITY TO RETURN CASES TO CERTAIN MUNICIPAL BOARDS OR OFFICERS

By law, someone can appeal to Superior Court from a decision of a municipal zoning commission, planning commission, planning and zoning commission, or zoning board of appeals; certain other municipal boards or commissions; or a municipal chief elected official or his or her designee about illegal dumping.

The bill gives the court more options when disposing of these cases on appeal. It allows the court to return the case to the board, commission, or official in a manner consistent with the evidence on the record. Existing law gives the court authority to modify or revise the board's decision. The bill requires any modification or revision to be consistent with the evidence on the record.

For appeals from a municipal inland wetlands agency, the law allows the court to set aside the agency's action or modify it if the action constitutes a taking without compensation. In other circumstances, the bill allows the court, after a hearing, to reverse, affirm, modify, or return the decision in a manner consistent with the evidence in the record.

4-5 — FAMILY SUPPORT REFEREES PERFORMING MARRIAGES

The bill allows family support referees to perform marriages. By law, family support referees are retired family support magistrates who continue to perform certain functions. By law, family support magistrates and specified others can conduct marriages.

The bill validates marriages performed before the bill's passage that would have been valid except that a family support referee:

1. performed the ceremony without explicit statutory authority to do so and

2. represented himself or herself as qualified, and the marrying couple reasonably relied on that representation.

7, 14-15 & 27 — RECOGNIZANCE OR BOND IN CIVIL CASES

The bill eliminates the current requirements for entering a recognizance or posting a bond in certain civil cases and instead prohibits them, unless the court finds good cause.

The bill repeals current provisions for civil actions that:

1. require a plaintiff who is not a state resident, or who the authority signing process believes is unable to pay the costs of the action if the court orders judgment against the plaintiff, to either (a) enter a recognizance to the adverse party with a financially responsible person in the state, who may be a surety or (b) have such a financially responsible person enter the recognizance directly with the adverse party;

2. require a member of a community who appears to defend an action against the community to post a surety bond for any costs to the community that arise from the appearance;

3. allow a court to order a bond from a nonresident defendant in an action relating to real property or an interest in real property; and

4. allow a court to order, on its own motion or that of the defendant, a sufficient bond by considering taxable costs for which the plaintiff may be responsible other than expert witness fees or charges.

The bill instead prohibits a bond or recognizance from any party in a civil action unless the court (1) on a motion and for good cause, finds the party cannot pay the costs of the action and (2) orders a bond or recognizance to the adverse party with a financially responsible person to pay taxable costs.

When determining the bond amount, the court may only consider taxable costs, excluding expert witness fees or charges. Under current law, this applies when a court orders a bond on its own motion or that of a defendant. By law, taxable costs include various things such as witness' legal fees and mileage, copies of records, and legal fees for service of process.

As under current law, any party that does not comply with a court order to give a bond or recognizance can be nonsuited or defaulted (the case is terminated). The bill eliminates the court's authority to order a bond and payment to the defendant of the action's costs to that date for failure to comply with these laws or an authority's failure to certify to personal knowledge of a plaintiff's financial responsibility.

The bill also repeals provisions that specifically apply to endorsements in actions on probate bonds. (Other statutes govern probate bonds.)

Eviction Proceedings

The bill eliminates a prohibition on requiring recognizance for a pro se (someone representing himself or herself in court) who files a complaint for possession of premises under the eviction law when the lessee or occupant does not leave as required. Thus, it subjects these complainants to the bill's provisions allowing courts to require a bond for good cause.

10 — SENTENCE REVIEW DIVISION

By law, anyone sentenced to a prison term of three years or more may, within 30 days from the date a court imposed the sentence or revoked a suspended sentence, apply to the Superior Court's Sentence Review Division for sentence review. The division may allow a sentence to stand, or increase or decrease it.

The bill prohibits someone from applying to the division when he or she was sentenced under a plea agreement with an agreed maximum prison sentence but which allowed the defendant to request a lower term. As under existing law, a person cannot apply to the division if the (1) court could not have imposed a different sentence, as in the case of an offense that carries a mandatory minimum sentence; (2) sentence imposed resulted from the court's acceptance of a plea agreement; or (3) sentence imposed was for less than the plea agreement.

By law, the Superior Court's Sentence Review Division consists of three Superior Court judges appointed by the Supreme Court chief justice.

16 & 17 — CIVIL PROTECTION ORDERS AND COURT FEES

The bill eliminates the following court fees related to civil protection orders:

1. $350 for applications to obtain, modify, or extend the order and

2. $125 for motions to open, set aside, modify, or extend the order.

By law, civil protection orders are available to certain sexual abuse, sexual assault, or stalking victims. Applicants for civil restraining orders, which are available to victims who are family and household members under similar circumstances, do not pay these fees.

18-19 — CRIMINAL VIOLATION OF RESTRAINING OR CIVIL PROECTION ORDERS

The bill excludes certain conduct from criminal violation of restraining or civil protection orders. Specifically, under the bill, the subject of a civil protection order, or a restraining order in Connecticut or another jurisdiction, is not in criminal violation of the order when he or she has a legal document served on the person protected by the order by mail or a third party, according to the law. This includes serving a notice of appearance, an application, a petition, or a motion, when the document was filed in good faith for a pending court matter or one that may be brought.

By law, a person commits a class D felony if he or she (1) is subject to a restraining order in Connecticut or another jurisdiction and knows its terms and (2) does not stay away from a person or place or contacts a person in violation of the order. It is a class C felony to knowingly violate an order by committing certain conduct such as threatening or harassing the person protected by the order. By law, a person subject to a civil protection order who knows its terms commits a class D felony if he or she violates the order.

By law, a class D felony is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. A class C felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

23 — VICTIM COMPENSATION

When determining the amount of compensation to pay a victim, the OVS or a victim compensation commissioner must consider other amounts that the person received or is eligible to receive, including state or municipal payments and workers' compensation awards. Current law requires consideration of any insurance benefits. The bill requires consideration of health insurance benefits but excludes consideration of life insurance benefits.

The law authorizes compensation for certain expenses and losses, up to a maximum award that can only be exceeded for good cause and under compelling equitable circumstances.

24-26 — WARREN CEMETERY ASSOCIATION

Under a 1917 special act, the Litchfield Judicial District Superior Court clerk acts as trustee of the escheated property formerly known as the Salmon Brownson Fund and pays (1) interest to the Warren Cemetery Association to maintain the Brownson family's graves and monuments, with any unexpended fund income used to maintain the graves of others who were members of the Warren Methodist Episcopal Church and for the association's general purposes or (2) income to a Methodist Episcopal church providing regular services in Warren.

The bill requires the clerk, by October 1, 2015, to close the account and pay the balance to the Warren Cemetery Association treasurer. It requires the association to use the funds, instead of just the interest, to maintain the graves and monuments described above and use any unexpended fund income for the association's general purposes. The association must continue to pay the fund's income to any Methodist Episcopal church providing regular services in Warren.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Judiciary Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute

Yea

43

Nay

0

(04/06/2015)