Connecticut Judicial Branch Law Library Closure Crisis Summary/Digest

The following history is relevant background information for  Jonathan Stock’s February 2011 Spectrum article, “Saving Connecticut Judicial Branch Libraries: The recent crisis and beyond.”



OCTOBER, 2008-MAY 2010

By Jonathan C. Stock

  • October, 2008: The national economic meltdown begins. It is a phenomenon beyond our control, but one with an inevitable impact on law libraries.
  • March 13, 2009: The Law Library Advisory Committee meets, deliberating alternate responses to a projected 20% budget reduction. The first warning signal arises—a proposal to compensate for drastic cuts by closing law libraries: the fewer is better doctrine. Fewer locations with “everything” current are perceived, by some, as preferable to more locations with fewer things current. This session ends with an ambiguous resolution affirming the value of law libraries, but not committed to keeping all open.

  • April 24, 2009: The Law Library Advisory Committee meets again to confront a worsening crisis. A previously Projected 20% reduction in the law library budget becomes 100% triggered by a $7.8 million reduction in the OE (Other Expenses) budget line item–part of an across-the-board reduction imposed by the Governor. Hope exists, however, that the Legislature can restore these funds.

  • April optimism has long evaporated by mid-November. The General Assembly did pass a restoration of OE funding, a restoration vetoed by the Governor. Effort to override failed in the Senate owing to one Democratic defection.
  • November 18, 2009: Judge Barbara M. Quinn, Chief Court Administrator, testifies before the Appropriations Committee outlining service cutbacks required by loss of $7.8 million reduction in OE. These cutbacks include eliminating six law libraries—as yet unspecified.

  • November 23, 2009: The first round of designated closures becomes public knowledge. Willimantic, Norwich, and Milford are marked for termination effective April 1, 2010. Connecticut Law Tribune article entitled “The Final Chapter” appears. Two more warning signals emerge: 1) Print is out; 2) Everything is free on the Internet.
  • December 23, 2009: The Southern New England Law Libraries Association (SNELLA) and AALL rise to the defense, sending petition letters to the Governor and the Appropriations Committee.
  • December 30, 2009: The second round of closures goes public. Law Libraries at Bridgeport, Litchfield, and Hartford are slated to terminate effective July 1, 2010.
  • Bridgeport closure triggers public outcry. A statement in December 30 Connecticut Post by Attorney Edward Czepiga, President-Elect of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association, characterizes the local closure as “just horrible.” Massive organizational support arises: GBBA, SNELLA, AALL. The protest accelerates and spreads.
  • January 1-February 28, 2010: AALL and SNELLA launch online Petition Drive for five libraries: Bridgeport, Litchfield, Hartford, Milford, and Norwich.

  • January 1-May 5, 2010: It becomes clear that the outgoing Governor wishes to appoint ten new Superior Court Judges. Representative Lawlor, Judiciary Committee Co-Chairperson, makes it clear that–absent added funding for Judicial, the Legislature will not vote to confirm these nominations.
  • February 9, 2010: SNELLA and AALL testify before Appropriations. The Committee concludes that this crisis arises from the $7.8 million reduction in OE funds; so its remedy must be found there.
  • H.B. 5148 arises from the Judiciary Committee to effect this remedy.

Its intent is two-fold:

1) To restore $7.8 million OE funding before April 1.

2) To correct an imbalance in the separation of powers so that Judicial, as a separate co-equal Branch of government, can communicate its budget

requests unchanged directly to the Legislature. These requests could no

longer be unilaterally reduced by OPM (Executive Branch) prior to transmission.

The separation of powers issue emerges, however, as a sticking point. Testimony by OPM Commissioner Genuario emphasizes that, in fiscal emergencies, any Governor needs rescission powers: an ability to reduce authorized budgets by some fixed percentage.

  • March 3, 2010: H.B. 5148 emerges with a favorable report from Judiciary. The vote, however, follows party lines. An attempt is made, but fails, to divide the vote—allowing restoration of funds but striking the separation of powers provisions. These latter are unacceptable to the Executive Branch.

  • March 25, 2010: Appropriations favorably reports the bill, adding back $8 million in OE funds for FY 11 to replace monies lost this year. A Joint Favorable Report retains controversial separation of powers language.

  • March 26-April 22, 2010 The bill works its way through many steps and ends up tabled for a second time on the House Calendar.

  • April 22-23, 2010: Governor Rell vows to veto H.B. 5148 unless the separation of powers language is modified to preserve Executive authority in budget reduction matters. Her objection relates to H.B. 5148 Sec. 3(b) amending C.G.S. Sec. 4-85 so that the Governor’s power to “require” reductions became a power to “propose.” It further transferred the veto override function from the full House and Senate to the Joint Committee on Appropriations. Finally, the Committee—under this new language—needed only to “approve” any reduction after a public hearing. By implication, therefore, a decision to approve or—importantly—to disapprove required only a majority vote. The two-thirds majority of both Chambers formerly needed to override a veto had vanished. The Executive Branch viewed this last change as a separation of powers violation—unacceptably weakening any Governor’s ability to make urgent budget cuts in crisis time.  The Judiciary Committee vows to block all Judicial nominations absent fund restoration. *Senate arithmetic on veto override remains intact since last year. Hence, there is apparent stalemate.
  • April 23, 2010: A final compromise emerges, breaking this stalemate. Under its terms, the first two revisions—changing require to propose” and transferring legislative review to Appropriations—remain in place. The key compromise language, however, was that rejection of a now “proposed” cut required a twothirds Committee majority. Hence, the Gubernatorial rescission power remained comparable—although now monitored by a subdivision of the Legislature rather than the full Body thereof. This final compromise language may now be viewed in “An Act Making Adjustments to State Expenditures for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2011,” P.A. 10-179 Sec. 31(e).
  • The amended bill and Judicial appointments looked like going forward.
  • April 24, 2010: The deal stalls. Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams refuses to implement this “deal” until the entire $19 billion State Budget is approved.
  • April 24-May 5, 2010: Our final outcome remains uncertain as budget negotiations crawl forward.
  • May 5, 2010: “An Act Making Adjustments to State Expenditures for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2011” is approved as the legislature closes down on schedule.                                               
  • The result is that 4 out of six law libraries will be saved from closure: Bridgeport, Litchfield, Hartford, and Willimantic. Two are lost: Milford and Norwich. We emerged victorious by a split decision, but nonetheless victorious.

Jonathan C. Stock ( retired from his position as supervising law librarian at the Connecticut Judicial Branch Law Library at Stamford effective June 1, 2009.

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