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Monday, June 1, 2015


By Elizabeth A. Richter

There was a phase in my life where I was observing trials in Hartford Family Court so I could learn to represent myself pro se.  I was watching one such case when the mother stated that she was uncomfortable with my presence because she knew me from Church. 

As soon as she said it, I realized that she was right and stood up to leave.  Somehow, I hadn't thought of that point because I was so focused on just watching the proceedings.  I can get very single minded. 

As I turned to leave the courtroom, however, the judge stopped me and went into a lengthy explanation of why courtrooms in the State of Connecticut are open and that this litigant, the mother, had no business daring to ask me to leave.  At the end of this lengthy diatribe, the judge concluded by addressing me saying, "You may leave, if you now choose to do so."  I promptly did so.

I was thoroughly embarrassed by that situation--embarrassed for this mother who had been unfortunately reprimanded, indirectly because of my actions, and also I faulted myself for not realizing how inappropriate it was for me to be there. 

The point of mentioning this is to let you know that Connecticut has an open courtroom policy in regard to judicial proceedings--meaning courtroom trials and hearings are generally open to the public.  One exception to that would be juvenile proceedings or proceedings where the content is sealed. 

This policy reflects a national policy which is based upon our first amendment rights which have been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.  I found a very interesting discussion on this topic at the link below: 

I had a very different experience in Hartford a little over a month ago when I was in court watching a hearing in the case of Lauren Couloute v. Matthew Couloute.  Within ten minutes of entering the courtroom to listen to the proceedings, the presiding judge, Judge Jorge Simon told me to leave even though I stated to the judge that I wanted to stay and that I had a right to be there. 

So what happened to my first amendment right to open court room proceedings in the State of Connecticut which the first judge had been so eloquent in espousing? 

Essentially, both attorneys in the Couloute case orchestrated a scene, or rather coordinated together, to provide testimony to the judge which was used as the basis for removing me from the court even though it was patently false and misleading.  In essence, they accused me of violating a sequestration order which I was unaware of.

When it happened, I had no advanced notice of the arguments which would be used against me and I wasn't given any opportunity to defend myself.  Judge Jorge Simon simply ejected me summarily from the courtroom.  Underlying Judge Jorge Simon's actions was a presumption that if asked, I would have no defense and that the attorneys present could be counted on to be honest. 

Both presumptions were wrong. 

So, how did this all happen? 

It began on Thursday, April 23, 2015.  I'd actually come to court quite reluctantly.  I knew that both Attorney Michael Budlong and Attorney Ceil Gersten felt uncomfortable with me, but I was responding to Lauren's repeated statements that she wanted me there despite the fact these attorneys were unfriendly towards me.  Because of my reluctance, I ended up being quite late for the start of the morning proceedings. 

On my way into the Courtroom, I ran into Ms. Stacey Blitsch, a witness in the case who was asked to stay in the hallway until she was called.  We briefly exchanged a hello, but I wanted to get into the courtroom quickly because I knew that Lauren was waiting for me and needed my support.  So there was no discussion of any sequestration order.

For the next hour and a half, I sat and listened to Lauren provide general information under the prompting of her attorney, Michael Budlong, simply detailing how she met her ex husband and what led to the breakdown of the marriage. 

Then, Attorney Ceil Gersten received a phone call which she said was from the hospital about her son who was in the middle of a medical crisis.  The Court then made the decision that the hearing would break for lunch and we would reconvene around 2:00p.m. 

I left the courtroom, returned to my car and added more money to the meter, and then went to McDonald's for lunch.  Meanwhile, Lauren and Stacey went off together for a full two hour lunch.  Of course, these are the two only witnesses in the trial.  Yet, they are having lunch together, and still no one seems to have a problem with that, given that they could share testimony.    

When everyone returned from lunch, it became increasingly clear that both Attorney Gersten and Attorney Michael Budlong had no intention of proceeding with trial.  Attorney Budlong thrust a completed Dissolution Agreement into Lauren's hands and insisted that she sign it. 

After watching Attorney Budlong trying to push Lauren into signing the agreement for a lengthy period of time, I finally went up to Lauren and told her that she would have to keep in mind that if she agreed to sign, she would be required to state on the stand, under oath, that she was not coerced.  I asked her straight out, "Are you prepared to make that kind of statement under oath." 

Attorney Budlong was sitting next to her at the time and tried to shoo me away, but I said, "I am a friend of Lauren's and I have a right to speak to her."  At that, Attorney Budlong confronted Lauren and pretty much said she had betrayed him by being a friend of mine, and that if he'd known that he never would have agreed to represent her. 

Needless to say, there was tremendous tension, a sense that Budlong might abandon his client--Lauren--at a moment's notice if she crossed him, along with an agreement that the attorneys wanted Lauren to sign so as to avoid any necessity for trial, and me, the friend/journalist whom they felt stood in the way of that. 

Fast forward to the hearing before the judge. 

I'll tell you right now that if you are standing before the judge and an attorney calls the opposing attorney "my sister attorney" and vice versa, you can be sure someone is in trouble.  This is how the hearing started out in this case. 

Essentially, Attorney Michael Budlong accused me of violating a sequestration order which, unknown to me, had been put into place in regard to the witness Stacey Blitsch.  A sequestration order, for anyone who does not know, is an order where a witness in a case is not allowed in the courtroom in advance of his or her testimony so that court testimony cannot be influenced by that of other witnesses.  The accusation Budlong made was that while I was in the hallway, I communicated to Stacey the content of Lauren Couloute's testimony from earlier that morning.

In fact, I wasn't aware of this sequestration order because, as I said, I arrived considerably late to the hearing.  

But Attorney Budlong essentially misrepresented the situation to the judge and implied that I was aware, stating "I believe she was present when Judge Ficeto entered the order.  I checked with Attorney Gersten and she confirms that in fact she was."  Now I can't actually say that Attorney Budlong lied because he uses "attorney speak" and manages to do what I call lying without lying.  Because if you look at Attorney Budlong's statement, he prefaces his comment with "I believe..."  So he is not stating as a fact that I was present, only that he believes it to be a fact that I was present.  Then he proceeds with hearsay for which he cannot be held responsible and states Attorney Gersten "confirms" I was present. 

Continuing in this line, Attorney Budlong also stated as follows:  "During one of the recesses I found that the witness, Stacey, was talking to this lady...Elizabeth Richter...and I felt that there was enough of a substance of the discussion that could only, by implication or directly, interfere with the sequestration order." 

What nonsense!  There was no way that Attorney Michael Budlong heard anything that I said to Stacey because we mostly spoke by text, and when we did speak out loud, Attorney Budlong wasn't anywhere near us to hear anything we said; he was busy with his client. 

Furthermore, at no time after "one of these recesses" did Attorney Budlong or Attorney Gersten return to the courtroom and request that Judge Ficeto reiterate her sequestration order to make sure everyone knew about it and that  it was obeyed.  You'd think they would have, if they were so concerned!

And Furthermore, the main witnesses, Lauren Coulette and Stacey Blitsch had spent a two hour lunch together where who knows what they talked about.  I might have joined them also, were it not that I had other things to do, and certainly no one cautioned me before I left not to or told me to be careful what  I spoke about. 

Still,  I wasn't even a witness and I didn't even have testimony; I was merely an observer.  It is still unclear to me how a sequestration order pertains to a non-witness who is simply there to observe.  I certainly didn't hear either judge discuss it. 

One thing I do know is that for the last six years, I have been present at several trials of friends as an observer and sometimes as an advocate.  I have hung out during breaks with witnesses and with litigants.  I have never had any attorney ever bring up any issue regarding sequestration.  So, all of a sudden it is a concern in this case where neither attorney even intends to bother to go to trial or ask the witness to provide testimony and they already have a finalized agreement ready to go! 

I don't want to perseverate regarding  the remaining false accusations that were made to trump up a case against me, for instance, that I accused Attorney Budlong of coercing his client--no but I did say, as previously reported, that she would have to swear that he didn't coerce her--or that I walked up and down the hallway (as if they didn't do the same) glaring at the attorneys--as if they didn't glare at me. 

The bottom line is that the Judge ordered me to leave based upon fabricated and trumped up grounds and failed to conduct a proper inquiry into the truth of the matter. 

If any attorneys in a case can simply engineer the ejection of observers from a courtroom at whim by concocting a believable but false scenario, how much validity does a state law guaranteeing open courtrooms truly have? 

As a side note, I had come to observe these proceedings simply as Lauren's friend, but as a principal writer on behalf of the "Divorce in Connecticut" website, I have media credentials as well.  However, Judge Jorge Simon did not allow me the opportunity to inform him about those credentials prior to ejecting me from Court.

When I dropped by the Hartford Courthouse a few days later and directly provided Judge Simon with a copy of those credentials while he was sitting with Jeanne Hayes in the Caseflow office, he was very short and dismissive towards me. 

Judges and attorneys of the CT Judicial Branch may not wish to be held accountable by the members of the media, but this is the only way that we can protect our freedoms.  Both Judges and attorneys would be the first to protest if those freedoms, which journalists protect by their very presence, weren't available to them. 

Now I understand that I am only a citizen journalist and not a member of the traditional media, but legal professionals should keep in mind that we are the backup to the backup, and you'd be surprised how valuable we can be. 

The bottom line, though, is that it was quite educational to see how my rights as an American citizen disappeared with the snap of a finger when it came to Judge Simon.  This is just a microcosm of the kind of violations of our constitutional rights and the right to due process which occurs daily in the courts in all kinds of cases.  At bottom, our rights are only as good as the judges who enforce them. 


  1. Really!!! You state you were there as an observer but yet you felt compelled to interject your opinion into a conversation an attorney was having with his client. Were you acting as co-counsel? No? Oh, I get it, you have a legal degree and you felt it was necessary to speak to the client. How ridiculous are you?

    1. This is a very marginally acceptable comment which I only publish as a matter of courtesy because I prefer to error on the side of allowing people to speak. There is no need to make comments like "how ridiculous are you?" There is no need to be attacking and call a person ridiculous when you critique what they have done. You can certainly suggest a better way, but no need to be rude. The fact that the comment above is written in such an attacking way says loads about the person who made the comment, that this is a person who is unable to work cooperatively or for the common good, in my view.

    2. I think that when a friend comes along to provide support, he or she is perfectly entitled to share the wisdom of their experience. Were you suggesting that what Elizabeth advised her friend was wrong or unhelpful? Isn't it true that if you agree to sign a dissolution agreement you are required to go on the stand and affirm you were not coerced--isn't that called "the canvas" or are you saying there is no such thing?

    3. Oh yeah, Attorney Budlong charged $40,000 for an agreement his client clearly didn't want to sign and which wasn't in her best interests or that of her child and yet you would call Elizabeth ridiculous? Riiigghht!

    4. Divorce lawyers act in their own interests rather than those of their clients. That is a huge problem in family court. Any divorce lawyer who has been practicing for even a short while can figure out to rip off his or her own clients and get away with it. They learn to focus on situations where the client or family has a lot of cash and is in a particularly difficult situation and therefore can protect his or her own interest.

    5. Mike Budlong has always been sleazy. Did you know he was arrested years ago for solicitation of a prostitute? and at one time on Hartford's top 10 delinquent tax payer list??

  2. This is sad. In Connecticut, connected lawyers routinely make dishonest, illegal and unconstitutional requests of family court judges and have them granted.

  3. I know a pro se parent who had three mom friends accompany him to court. One was a practicing family lawyer from another state. The other two were PTA moms. They were completely proper in court. Judge Emons threw all three of them out of court, supposedly for talking, because she was upset at the dad. The lawyer friend could not believe how unprofessional Connecticut family court judges were.

  4. Routinely Ceil Gersten threatens me not to tell you (by name) or anyone else anything about my case and not to put it online. Excuse me Atty. Gersten but where is that law? There isn't.

    They just didn't want you there to witness the intimidation and violation of rights.

    On 2/14/2014 I testified against the reappointment of Judge Olear and I listed a number of examples of Olear allowing a lawyer to get away with violating the Practice Book. Well, that lawyer is none other than Atty. Gersten.

    Then when we complain to the legislature that lawyers are just as much at fault as litigants if not more because technically they ARE HELD to a higher standard, the legislators refuse to acknowledge our legitimate complaints.

  5. The only people who should be called "ridiculous" at this point are the ones who support this corrupt system and the players in it. Bottom line. Budlong, Gersten, Couloute are just the tip of the iceberg. Funny how Gersten and Budlong were in on Attorney Couloute's divorce. He has the McGuigan family greasing the wheels in every other shit storm he manages to snake his way out of. These people are the scum of humanity. The families and people they destroy...I don't know how they live with themselves. Oh that's right, the entire "judicial system" in CT operates that way.