Connecticut State Library with state seal

Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 255, page(s) 959-963


JANUARY 17, 2001

Welcome to all of you. Today we conclude a special chapter in the history of the Connecticut Supreme Court. On September 15, 1999, Francis M. McDonald, Jr., became this court's thirty-fifth chief justice. This morning marked the last time that he presided at oral argument, and as the senior associate justice on this court, it is my privilege, on behalf of all the chief justices colleague's, to honor his accomplishments.

A warm welcome goes to Frank's wife, Mary, his sons, Michael and John, and his daughter, Mary Ann, as well as their spouses-Dee, Stephanie and Jim-and Frank's grandchildren-Maria, Anna, Erin, Brittany, and one on the way. We all know how much Frank's family means to him, and we are delighted that you are all here today to share in this tribute to him.

Frank McDonald has dedicated his entire career to exemplary public service. After graduating magna cum laude from Holy Cross, he followed his father into the study of law, even managing to pass the bar exam six months prior to graduation from Yale Law School. After service as a special agent of the F.B.I., he joined the Untied States attorney's office. But, fortunately for the state of Connecticut, he decided that the state, rather than the federal, courts would have the benefit of his zealous advocacy. In 1961, he entered the state's prosecutorial service, first as an assistant prosecuting attorney, and then as chief prosecuting attorney, in the Circuit Court. Beginning in 1968, and for sixteen years thereafter, he served as the state's attorney at Waterbury. During that time, Frank successfully prosecuted some of Connecticut's highest profile and most controversial cases.

In 1984, he was nominated by Governor William O'Neill to be a Superior Court judge, and, at his swearing-in ceremony, Judge James Henebry observed that Frank McDonald had distinguished himself in practice in front of the bench and would do the same on it. And Judge McDonald did just that, serving with distinction as a trial judge for the next twelve years. Then, in 1996, Governor John Rowland nominated him to be a justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, and, on September 15, 1999, Justice McDonald assumed the office of chief justice.

While on this bench Frank McDonald has been the author of some fifty-one majority opinions, as well as twenty-five concurring, sixty-seven dissenting, and twenty-three concurring and dissenting opinions-and we are still counting! His opinions are characteristically commonsensical, concise and to the point, and are often laced with pungent wit and historical references, and offer his unique and fresh viewpoint, and his keen sense of justice, on the vexing legal issues that we confront on this court.

Three of his opinions of which he is most proud are State v. McDougal, Green v. General Dynamics Corp., and Branhaven Plaza, LLC v. Inland Wetlands Commission. In McDougal, then Justice McDonald held for the court that, under both the federal and state constitutions, because age groups are not subject to heightened scrutiny, they do not require special protection from peremptory jury challenges. In Green, Justice McDonald interpreted the Workers' Compensation Act to afford increased benefits to the widow of a former employee of General Dynamics who had died from cancer contracted from exposure to asbestos. In Branhaven Plaza, LLC, Chief Justice McDonald, writing for the court, interpreted our environmental protection statutes to preclude a developer from being permitted to destroy wetlands in exchange for unspecified money and services to be provided later to be governing local wetlands commission.

But, as we all know, the job of chief justice extends beyond the able leadership of the Supreme Court, to the administrative leadership of the Judicial Branch of our state government. During his tenure in this role, Chief Justice McDonald has made the reduction of the Superior Court caseload a major priority.

Concerned by a backlog of murder cases in certain of our judicial districts, he undertook a successful reduction initiative by ordering the allocation of additional judges and resources to the most burdened of our criminal courts, those of Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport. He also has attacked the backlog of civil jury cases, and, as a first step, established a commission to engage in a thorough examination of the multifaceted process of civil caseflow, and to formulate commonsense approaches to the reduction of the civil case backlog.

In addition, as a result of legislation passed by the General Assembly and the vote of the citizens of Connecticut to eliminate the office of high sheriff, the Judicial Branch has assumed the responsibilities of court security and cellblock operations. Under the leadership of the chief justice, the immense task of incorporating the special deputy sheriffs into the Judicial Branch as judicial marshals has begun, and is progressing on course.

The chief justice also implemented the proposal, initiated by his predecessor, Chief Justice Callahan, to formulate a commission to study the attorney grievance process. Early in his stewardship of the branch, Chief Justice McDonald appointed members of the commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the grievance process and to recommend ways in which it could be improved. And we will soon be receiving the recommendations of that commission.

Recognizing that a strong Judicial Branch requires a strong physical foundation, Chief Justice McDonald continued the ongoing capital building and improvement projects, including a new facility for the Appellate Court. He also established the New Haven County Courthouse Restoration Task Force, to oversee and execute the renovation of the neoclassical courthouse on Elm Street. As a tribute to the success of this endeavor, the courthouse has been designated an official project of Save America's Treasures, a partnership between the White House Millennium Council and the national Trust for Historic Preservation.

Frank, on behalf of your colleagues on this court and throughout the Judicial Branch, I congratulate you on your outstanding career-as a United States attorney, state's attorney, judge, justice, and chief justice. I know that you will enjoy an active and productive retirement.

In the coming years, may you continue to be surrounded by your loving family;

May you continue to serve the Branch and the people of the state as a judge trial referee;

May you find many mountains to ski, and many rivers, lakes and bays to navigate;

And may those waters always be filled with a endless supply of hungry fish.

And now, the court grants Chief Justice Francis M McDonald, Jr., a few moments for a brief rebuttal argument.

JANUARY 17, 2001

I thank Dave Borden for his kind remarks.

I thank the people of Connecticut for the opportunity to be of public service, Governors O'Neill and Rowland, and the General Assembly.

Our work product on this court are opinions affecting the lives and rights of all our citizens. It is, therefore, an awesome responsibility to undertake writing these decisions. The writing itself of the opinions is demanding work involving concentration. It is not like the work of Hollywood writers described by a movie mogul in these terms, "What's all this business about being a writer? It's just putting one word after another."

The mural on the wall behind this bench shows Reverend Thomas Hooker preaching to the earliest settlers of Connecticut, who drew up the first written constitution on our shores. Those Fundamental Orders are the model for the form of government established in this country, a government answering to the people. In the spirit of giving thanks for this "Heaven rescued land," I give thanks for all of you for your support and good company. To Mary. To Mike, Mary Ann and John. To Dee, Jim and Stephanie. To Maria, Anna, Erin, Brittany and one to be announced. To friends and colleagues of many years and not so many years. To the excellent staff of the court and Branch and to friends across the street at the state capitol.

All I can really say is thanks.