PLEASE NOTE: This blog is a bigotry free zone open to all persons, regardless of age, race, religion, color, national origin, sex, political affiliations, marital status, physical or mental disability, age, or sexual orientation. Further, this blog is open to the broad variety of opinions out there and will not delete any comments based upon point of view. However, comments will be deleted if they are worded in an abusive manner and show disrespect for the intellectual process.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


I will admit I am a bit of a practical joker.  And I mean it in the best way because I think people need to relax and not take themselves so seriously.  Of course, sometimes this can be a problem when I am cracking a joke that I think is particularly funny, but no one else knows the joke. 
I can recall one incident way back before Borders went belly up in bankruptcy.  The Borders I frequented had just renovated to add Seattle's Best Coffee to its cafĂ©.  Of course, that alone was a problem.  Seattle's best coffee in Hartford, Connecticut.  Hello, are you kidding me?  We have some of the "best" things here in Connecticut, but Seattle? Where is that exactly? 
So they had just made the switch, and I went and ordered something slightly more complicated from the newly hired little girl who was at the cash register.  I mean, everyone else knew me, but not this little kid, and I kind of forgot that.  So while she is fumbling around with my order, checking the newly published booklet on prices and slowly punching my order into the register, I said, "I'm a secret shopper from Seattle's Best Coffee, so you better hurry it up or I'll have to report you." 
Well, wouldn't you know, our cute little cashier believed me and almost had a nervous breakdown right on the spot until the other barristas calmed her down and said, "That's just Cathy, pulling your leg!"  Which of course, sort of ruined my fun. 
Anyway, my point in telling you this story is that in 2008 The Connecticut Judicial Branch began running a "secret shopper" program, one that is fully funded by the Judicial Branch itself.  The program, which has been reported as a rousing success, by the way, indicates that the Branch is doing a truly wonderful job of meeting the needs of the public. 
I guess they weren't at the task force hearings on January 9, 2014! 
The article on this program which appears in the website for the National Council for State Courts, in the section "Trends in State Courts" was written by Heather Collins who is reported to be a Court Planner with the Connecticut Judicial Branch.   
Apparently, the purpose of this program which I have been told remains operational on an ongoing basis and has considerably increased its reach is to "help judges and court staff to improve their work with the public." 
Of course, later in the article, Ms. Collins kind of sneaks in the fact that no judges were investigated in this program, so that's kind of cheating.  I'm not sure how the judges can improve their work if they are actually not participating in the program. 
The way the program works is that volunteer staff members (members of the Courthouse Observation Team--COT) who are already employed in the CT Judicial Branch, went around to various Judicial Districts sampling their services.  In other words, "volunteer branch staff members [conducted] anonymous assessments of the delivery of services to the branch staff" with the primary focus, according to Chief Justice Chase Rogers of determining whether Branch employees used "common courtesy." 
I suppose that means that when they hid your documents, failed to calendar your motions, and denied you modifications you were entitled to under Title II of federal ADA law, as long as they did so with common courtesy, that makes it OK!  Isn't this a little like the Mafia investigating itself?  Doesn't it smack a bit of the "self-regulating" nature of the legal profession which means that practically none of its members are ever held accountable by Statewide Grievance for even the most blatant wrongdoing?  Just wondering! 
The participants in the Courthouse Observation Team (COT) received a very specific checklist upon which to record their observations covering the condition of the facilities, ease of navigating around the facilities, the behavior of marshals and Clerks as well as telephone courtesy in response to inquiries.  The checklists allowed team members to respond either "yes", "no", or not applicable with room there for more detailed comments. 
The article stated that the purpose of this secret shopper program is "to support accountability to the public by helping to ensure that each person is treated fairly and respectfully with professionalism and integrity, which are the core values of the judicial branch." 
I never would have guessed that in the last seven years I've been going there!  
Apparently, despite some initial discomfort with this program, employees at the judicial branch are delighted by it, particularly because it is reporting how great these employees are--not a big surprise.  Nine out of ten times, team members experiences were positive. 
Employees also feel good that even if one of their number gets fingered, the CT Judicial Branch management will not single them out.  Instead, there are meetings to improve the performance of all employees as a whole while specifically detailing what the problem had been. 
Finally, the article ends with prophetic words that when the public is not being treated fairly, "our governor and legislature will surely hear of it!"  Looks like the governor and the legislature is hearing a considerable amount right now and will continue to hear a good deal in the months to come. 
And this is the thing about self examination, about secret shopper programs conducted by inside players.  They don't work! 
What I find very typical here in this report is that it goes ahead and reports as a smashing success a program that the extensive public outcry in the last few years has shown to be a complete failure.  So what we are getting are more self congratulatory manipulations on the part of the CT Judicial Branch starting right from the top with Chief Justice Chase Rogers.  It is kind of like the doublespeak of 1984 transplanted to the CT Judicial Branch. 
Of course, we heard the same kind of nonsense from the co-chairs of the task force in these past few weeks.  We have a broken Family Court System and the co-chairs are apparently the only ones who don't know it.  Could it be because of the massive sums of money they've been making off of vulnerable family court litigants?

As I postscript, I will say that in the last year when I've gone to Court there has been a distinct improvement in general friendliness and the willingness to be helpful.  You know that thing where you ask if they have a stapler, and the clerks say "Go find one yourself!"--that has gone!  I was actually quite touched in one situation where a marshall asked me whether I'd filed that paper that goes to the Court clerk to indicate I'm ready to go before the judge.  And when I hesitated he told me how to get it and submit it.  So, ok, there are some improvements there.  But let's not get over excited here.  There is still a long way to go. 

For more information on this program, see the link below:



  1. Thanks I needed a good laugh.
    In 2011, after I complained to Whetstone about the shenanigans that you described she told me to shut up but I didn't and she sanctioned me $100. But shortly after that no court clerk would help me. It was quite comical as a long line formed behind me in the clerk's office as the clerks would see me at the front of the line and walk away. I guess the secret shopper program missed that !!

  2. Obviously you didn't read the whole thing because that program is still going on.

    1. Ok, the article I read didn't say that, but I will look it up again, and if you are correct, change it to reflect the reality. If you have a good link that I can review, that would be great!

    2. I did review the Heather Collin's article and the only dates it mentions are the 2008 and 2009 dates. However, I am going on faith that you are probably correct given the expansion of the program and I will double check with the CT Judicial Branch tomorrow. Thanks for pointing this out to me. Sometimes there is no reason to be so cynical!