Connecticut State Library with state seal

Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 225, page(s) 930-931


The Honorable John P. Cotter, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Connecticut's first chief court administrator, died on March 16, 1993, at the age of eighty-two.

Chief Justice Cotter was born in Hartford on March 2, 1911. During the Depression, he worked his way through college as a truck driver, earning a B.S. degree in history and economics from Trinity College in 1933. He earned his law degree from the Harvard Law School in 1936 and joined the Hartford firm of Day, Berry and Howard for two years. In 1938, at the age of twenty-seven, he opened his own law practice in association with Attorney Joseph P. Cooney, and three years later became prosecuting attorney of the Hartford Police Court.

He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1947 and served as House Democratic floor leader until 1950. During this period, he was a member of the Judiciary Committee, the Metropolitan District Commission and chairman of the Legislative Council (1947-48). He was an active participant in several democratic campaigns.

In 1950, at the age of thirty-nine, he was sworn in as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas by Governor Chester Bowles, becoming the youngest jurist in Connecticut's state court system to that time. Five years later, Governor Abraham A. Ribicoff nominated him to be a judge of the Superior Court. He held that post for ten years until his appointment as associate justice of the Supreme Court. He was also named to the new position of chief court administrator, effective July 1, 1965. During his thirteen years as chief court administrator, the court system underwent extensive structural changes, the most significant of which was court unification, which culminated in the establishment of a one-tier trial court system in 1978.

"Under Chief Justice Cotter, the court began to organize in an orderly manner which facilitated the handling of cases and brought justice closer to the people of Connecticut," said Aaron Ment, the current chief court administrator.

Chief Justice Cotter was nominated to be chief justice in 1978. He served in the state's highest judicial position until 1981 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of seventy. He continued to serve the judiciary as a state trial referee for many years.

During his judicial career, Chief Justice Cotter served on numerous boards and commissions, including cochair of the Connecticut Planning Committee on Criminal Administration, chair of the Advisory Council on Court Unification, director of the American Judicature Society, trustee of the Institute for Court Management, and member of the Board of Pardons, American Law Institute, Institute of Judicial Administration and Judicial Council.

Chief Justice Cotter leaves his wife, Jeannette Z. Cotter, and two daughters.