The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
State GOP lawmakers call for public hearing on new bail standards
Republicans lawmakers complain that a proposed rule change that would lower the maximum amount defendants who can be charged for bail is detrimental to victims.
Led by House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford and Rep. Craig Fishbein of Wallingford, they cited state law that requires lawmakers to advise the rules committee of the state Superior Court on a change to the Connecticut courtroom rules on the maximum limit of bonds from the current $20,000 to $50,000, while at the same time lowering the percentage the individual defendants would be required to pay from the current 10 percent, down to seven percent.
Candelora and Fishbein, called for the legislative Judiciary Committee to hold a public hearing on the proposal before it is adopted by the rules committee.
But Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, a cochairman of the law-writing Judiciary Committee, said Monday that the “tortured” GOP complaint would create major issues on the separation of powers between the Judiciary and the Legislature. He plans no such hearing.
“State statute is clear,” said Fishbein, a top GOP member of the Judiciary Committee, in a statement Friday. “The rule-making process is not discretionary. The public has a right to speak directly with their elected officials, and those officials have the right to debate and vote on any such rules so that everyone in the judicial system—defendants, victims, bondsmen, practitioners, and court employees—understands the expectations and limits. To do otherwise undermines the public trust and underscores our concerns about non-elected officials overstepping the authority given to them by the legislature.”
On May 8, the Superior Court rules committee conducted a public hearing on the practice book amendment, which was approved by the committee members later on the same day. State judges are likely to approved the change next month during their annual meeting, Candelora and Fishbein said.
“This is no small change, and it carries considerable public safety implications for Connecticut residents—victims in particular,” said Candelora. “With that in mind, we believe it’s not only imperative for the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee to hold a public hearing, we contend it’s required.”
Candelora and state Rep. Patrick Callahan, RNew Fairfield, a Judiciary Committee member have submitted opposition to the planned amendment.
“Another statute requires Judiciary Committee chairmen to appoint a group of six committee members to meet with the Superior Court’s Rules Committee at least once a year to discuss a variety of issues, yet to my knowledge that’s not something which has happened,” Candelora said. “Unfortunately, it feels as though our process is devolving into one where the majority party conducts business the way it sees fit rather than what’s specified in statute. How can anyone expect the public to follow what’s happening inside public institutions if the people running them operate from their own script?”
Stafstrom dismissed the Republican request.
“This is a tortured reading of a 70-year-old statute that I don’t believe has ever been interpreted the way they are trying to read it,” Stafstrom said in a phone interview. “Taken to its logical conclusion, what they are suggesting is every rule of court adopted over the last X number of decades is not valid without a public hearing. The Judicial Branch changes dozens of rules every year without a hearing before the Judicial Committee.”
As an example, Stafstrom recalled that in recent years the Judicial Branch changed the timeline on the pretrial, discovery periods in civil suits that extended the period to respond from 30 days to 60 days. “The Judiciary Committee does not weigh in on internal rules, just like the Judiciary doesn’t weigh in on legislative issues,” Stafstrom said. “It has not been the custom or practice of the legislature.”
On the bail issue itself, Stafstrom said GOP lawmakers have a “complete misunderstanding” of what bail is supposed to accomplish. “Bail is not punishment,” he said. “Bail is to assure someone’s appearance at trial. Anyone is innocent until proven guilty. We still have a presumption of innocence. To suggest somehow that this rule change is a detriment to victims, is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose.”