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State Supreme Court to visit Storrs this month
(April 12, 1999)

The Connecticut Supreme Court will convene in UConn's South Campus Ballroom on April 29 to hear three cases from their docket.

The judicial "road trip" is part of the state Judicial Department's ongoing effort to make the court more accessible to the general public. Through the program, the Supreme Court justices convene one session each year at a location other than the Hartford courtroom where they usually sit. The event is free and open to the public, including college or high school classes.

This is the court's third trip to UConn. The justices journeyed to Storrs in 1992, and visited the School of Law in Hartford in 1997.

"This is a great opportunity to see how the state's highest court works," says David Yalof, an assistant professor of political science who is helping arrange the visit. "It's a tremendously interesting process, very much unlike other court proceedings people may have seen, in person or on television."

Visitors will receive a 15-minute briefing before each case, which provides background information on what is about to transpire, and another 15-minute briefing after each case, explaining the arguments. The briefings will be delivered by attorneys familiar with the Supreme Court. The main arguments, including questions posed to the trial attorneys by the justices, will take about one hour each.

Doors to the "courtroom" will be locked once the justices begin hearing a case.

The three cases to be heard are:

State v. Maurice Billie. Billie was convicted of two counts of first-degree manslaughter as an accessory, one count of commission of a felony with a firearm, and one count of carrying a firearm without a permit. Billie appealed the conviction, claiming the judge in the original trial erred in not allowing testimony from an expert witness whom the defense claimed would show that Billie suffered behavioral changes the day of the crime because of a drug he had taken. The appeals court agreed the trial judge had erred, but ruled that the jury still would have found Billie guilty. The Supreme Court will be asked to determine whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that the trial court abused its discretion in striking the expert's testimony and, if so, whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that the trial court's error did not affect the verdict. The case begins at 10 a.m., with a pre-hearing briefing beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the courtroom.

State v. Nabil Kaddah. This case focuses on several questions, including the defendant's ability to understand English and Miranda Rights. Kaddah, a Syrian national whose native language is Arabic, was convicted of murdering one woman and kidnapping and attempting to murder another woman. After his arrest, he waived his right to remain silent and his right to an attorney. He also made several incriminating statements, which he later sought to suppress, using an expert witness to testify that he could not have waived his rights legally because his understanding of English was not sufficient to understand what was being said. The trial court denied the motion, concluding he understood English well enough to understand the charges and Miranda Rights, and had given his statements voluntarily. Kaddah says the court was wrong to deny him the right to bring an expert witness to the stand during the trial, and that the judge also erred in not completely explaining Kaddah's claim of extreme emotional disturbance to the jury during his instructions. The case begins at 11:45 a.m. with a pre-hearing briefing beginning at 11:30 a.m.

Gonzalo Cotto v. Sikorsky Aircraft, Division of United Technologies Corp. Cotto sued Sikorsky to recover damages caused to him when, he claims, he was wrongfully terminated after refusing to display an American flag at his workstation. A trial court struck down his claim, saying the General Statutes he cited in his suit did not protect expressive activities on an employer's private property. He appealed the decision, and the Appellate Court also ruled against Cotto, not on the same basis as the trial court but because the statutes cited protect activities and speech in the workplace where the words or conduct concern a matter of public, social, or other concern to the country - which, they said, Cotto's behavior did not. Cotto is asking the Supreme Court to determine whether the Appellate Court's decision that Cotto's First Amendment or constitutional rights were not abridged was, in fact, the proper ruling. The case begins at 2:15 p.m., with pre-hearing briefing beginning at 1:45 p.m.

Richard Veilleux