As part of the Supreme Court's "On Circuit" program, an educational initiative started 25 years ago to introduce students and others to the court and its procedures, the Supreme Court heard arguments for two cases in a standing-room-only ballroom at Western Connecticut State University.
The Western Connecticut State University's Student Center ballroom was full, and students lined the back walls for a chance to hear lawyers present arguments to the Supreme Court.
"I convinced her she wasn't ever going to get to hear something like this again," said Matt Coon, who convinced his fellow junior, Jessica Cassone, to attend the Supreme Court arguments.
"I'm from Waterbury, and I didn't even know this case was around," Coon said.
The case he heard, Virginia Stewart v. Town of Watertown, involved a Town Clerk who stopped going to work after her election due to what she considered unsafe working conditions. Watertown eventually stopped paying her and promoted the assistant town clerk to her job.
Stewart filed suit, and a Waterbury Superior Court judge ruled in December 2007 Watertown owed her more than a year of back wages. The case was appealed.
The case is now before the Supreme Court, and William T. Blake Jr., of Harlow, Adams & Friedman, presented arguments before the court on behalf of Stewart. Joseph Summa of Summa & Ryan of Waterbury, represented Watertown in the arguments.
Among the issues the court considered was if a town must pay an elected official regardless of their doing the job. If that answer is yes, does a town still have to pay the elected official after the town hires and pays a replacement worker?
"If a town clerk has been duly elected, for a set term, and has not been removed from that office by the state's attorney, they are entitled to be paid, no matter what their condition," Blake said. "If there was a problem with her work, the town should have no problem going to the state's attorney and removing them."
Blake said Watertown didn't do that.
What about that elected official's sworn oath of office, to faithfully fulfill the duties of that office, one justice asked.
It was in her own best interest, and in the best interest of her staff and the public's best interest to not enter the building, Blake responded. The Watertown Town Hall has a mold problem, and Blake explained the problem became worse in February 2006 after her election to the office.
The case will be decided at a later date.
The Supreme Court heard testimony in a case called State of Connecticut v. Alia Altajir, which involved what role Altajir's Facebook page played in her sentencing for violating probation. The page was described by prosecutors as a shirine to alcohol, debauchery and lewd behavior.
Altajir was convicted after a July 10, 2004 crash that led to the drowning death of Dustin Church, 18. Altajir was convicted of misconduct with a motor vehicle and operating a motor vehile under the influene of drugs or alcohol. She was sentenced on Jan. 5, 2007 to five years in prison followed by five years of probation. As part of the agreement, she served one year in prison. Her probation had 11 terms attached, and the judge warned her that getting only 10 right would land her back in prison.
After a second crash on April 17, 2009, she was arrested for failing to meet the terms of her probation. She was supposed to drive a car with a built-in ignition interlock breath device that would stop the car from starting if she was intoxicated. The car in 2009 didn't have that device. She was also supposed to reinstate her suspended license. She didn't until after the second crash.
When it came time on July 31, 2009, to sentence her for failing to meet the terms of her probation, prosecutors argued for the full four years remaining of probation. They got it. The defense asked for a shorter term, and later appealed.
At that hearing, prosecutors presented photographs from her Facebook page that apparently showed she hadn't slowed down her drinking. While that wasn't a crime, it didn't indicate any remorse. The names of the photo albums were, "Random Old Pictures," and "This is why I'm hot," a statment that drew laughter from the college audience.
Altajir's attorney, Moira Buckley, argued these photos were unreliable, because the dates the photos where shot couldn't be determined on the page. She said in one case, a photo was dated on a day when the court clearly knew Altajir was in prison. "This is like the scrawl on a bathroom wall. This is not reliable evidence."
The prosecution argued the page, in its entirety, showed a lack of remorse by Altajir. The question isn't the date, the issue is she put the photos up and create the page in the first place.
This case will be decided at a later date.