[Editor’s Note: Today (May 19, 2020), Governor Lamont announced the disbanding of the Partnership for Connecticut]
Obsessed with the virus epidemic, Connecticut might not have noticed two deaths last week from a different cause — the murder of two women in their home in Windsor. There is little chance that Connecticut will notice those murders any time soon, for while police have charged two 17-year-olds with the crime, the young men have not been officially identified and their prosecution will be secret, as in totalitarian China.
Ever since 1818 Connecticut’s Constitution has declared unambiguously, “All courts shall be open.” But last year the General Assembly and Governor Lamont enacted the Chinese system on the premise that secrecy would be better for juveniles charged not just with lesser offenses like car theft but also with murder and rape, lest juveniles so charged risk getting bad reputations, as if character should be irrelevant.
So while the most serious offenses laid to juveniles are still to be tried in adult court, rather than in juvenile court, which long has been unconstitutionally secret, under the new law adult court itself is to be closed to the public when trying juveniles charged with the worst crimes.
But secrecy also may prevent juveniles from getting fair trials. Indeed, for centuries in Anglo-Saxon law public trials have been considered a prerequisite of fair trials, and there are many federal court precedents, drawn from the Bill of Rights, requiring that trials be public. As Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote in deciding such a case in 1948, “The knowledge that every criminal trial is subject to contemporaneous view in the forum of public opinion is an effective restraint on possible abuse of judicial power.”
Unfortunately such is the power of political correctness in Connecticut that the legislature and governor blew away all that history and constitutional law in an afternoon last year without debate, forgetting their oaths to uphold the state and national constitutions.
A federal lawsuit has been brought against the secret trials law but it may take years to resolve. The people of Connecticut and especially the people of Windsor should not wait haplessly. They should clamor for the General Assembly to end its own cowardly delinquency amid the epidemic, reconvene, remember its oath, repeal the secret trials law, and let the public watch the proceedings that result from last week’s atrocity, not have government covering up even murder.
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Restoring accountability in state government should not stop with repeal of the secret trials law. The legislature also should take note of the farce that has become the Partnership for Connecticut, the agency created by statute last year at the request of Governor Lamont’s friend, the billionaire Ray Dalio, to mix government money with the billionaire’s and spend it in the name of improving the education of disadvantaged students. Also at Dalio’s request, the partnership was exempted from state accountability and ethics laws.
Now the partnership is undertaking to fire its chief executive, who was hired only two months ago at the predictably extravagant salary of nearly $250,000 per year. The partnership won’t conduct the dismissal proceedings in public or explain what’s going on. The chairman of the partnership’s board says the firing can’t be discussed in public because it’s a “personnel matter.”
This is the dumbest and most contemptible non-sequitur of unaccountable government. For no law prevents public discussion of government personnel matters. Indeed, personnel matters consume more than half of government expense in Connecticut. One might as well say they can’t be discussed because the sun rises in the east.
The partnership’s exemption from accountability should be repealed before the project gets more incompetent and contemptible.
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Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer. His views are not necessarily the newspaper’s.