Who Wrote the Opinion?

Ten years ago I wrote an article ranking the justices on the Connecticut Supreme Court who had sat in the 1980s and 1990s from 1 to 16. I thought I would take another look at my rankings and see if I still rank those 16 justices in the same order.


What follows is my revised article:


When you ask a law clerk to find a case on point, you rarely ask the clerk to tell you who wrote the opinion, but you should. Some judges have a good reputation and some do not. Your clerk won’t be able to help you on that score, but you need to know the author’s reputation because it is likely that the court you are trying to convince knows.


Since no research tool I am aware of tells you the reputation of the author of a decision, let me give you a bit of help as to one court. This is my totally objective and unbiased conclusion as to what views the current justices of the Connecticut Supreme Court are likely to have of their predecessors.


You do not need me to tell you that an opinion by Ellen Ash Peters is likely to be well-received by all the justices. You may need me to tell you that an opinion by Francis McDonald is likely to be read with caution by them.

1. Ellen Ash Peters (1978-2000)

2. David Shea (1981-1992)

3. David Borden (1990 – 2007)

4. Robert Berdon (1991-1999)

5. Arthur Healey (1979-1990)

6. John Speziale (1977-1984)

7. Robert Callahan (1985-2000)

8. Robert Glass (1987-1992)

9. Joseph Dannehy (1984-1987)

10. T. Clark Hull (1987-1991)

11. Leo Parskey (1980-1985)

12. Angelo Santaniello (1984-1994)

13. Anthony Grillo (1982-1984)

14. Anthony Armentano (1981-1982)

15. Alfred Covello (1987-1992)

16. Francis McDonald (1996-2001)

The only change in the rankings since 2009 is that Berdon has moved up dramatically from 11 to 4. He was very difficult to have as a colleague and he was rarely cited by them, many of whom remained on the bench after he retired in 1999. Borden, who remained on the Court until 2007 and was a highly scholarly justice, especially often clashed with Berdon.


A few more comments. First, Shea and Healey merit special attention. Shea was one of the greatest justices ever and he is without question held in the highest regard by the current justices. Healey’s wordiness may turn some readers off, but he was known for his thoroughness in examining every nook and cranny of the case before him.


Second, some of you may be surprised that Hull and Parskey are not higher on the list. But I have read their decisions exhaustively and their research is often sloppy. I am confident the current justices have seen what I have seen when they read Hull and Parskey decisions. In Parskey’s opinions especially, it is easy to be so dazzled by his prose that you overlook the case he cites that is not on point.


Finally, Speziale left the court early at age 62, but he left a significant legacy as chief justice from 1981-1984.


In general, you can’t go wrong citing the justices in the top half of the list. Those in the bottom half should be cited with increased caution as you go down the list.


The justices who sat before the 1990s are less familiar to the current justices, but I want to highlight the things they surely know.


For the period from 1950 until 1977, when Horton v. Meskill, 172 Conn. 615 (1977), shook the Court out of the doldrums, the justices were a fairly hide-bound (some would say reactionary) lot. Joseph Bogdanski’s dissenting opinions in the 1970s are more likely to be well-received today than the majority opinions from which he dissented. So if the decision you are reading has very traditional overtones, be cautious about citing it. This is especially so for the 1950s, when the Court had no intellectual leaders and was rabidly anti-Warren-Court. At least in the 1960s and 1970s, Chief Justice John Hamilton King and then Chief Justice Charles House (who wrote Horton) gave the Court some intellectual heft.


Until 1959, the Supreme Court had no law clerks, so the quality of the earlier opinions tended to vary greatly. For the first half of the twentieth century, you want the opinion to be written by William Maltbie (1925-1950), George Wheeler (1910-1930), Simeon Baldwin (1893-1910), or especially William Hamersley (1894-1908). For the nineteenth century, you want the opinion to be written by John Park (1864-1889), Thomas Butler (1861-1873), William Storrs (1840-1861), Thomas Williams (1829-1847), David Daggett (1826-1834), Stephen Hosmer (1815-1833), Zephaniah Swift (1808-1819), or Tapping Reeve (1808-1815). (Before 1810, the opinions were all per curiam.)


That’s my list. Use it with caution.

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