Sandy Hook Families Seek To Have Entire Supreme Court Hear Case

ROBERT STORACE, The Connecticut Law Tribune
October 10, 2016

As the Connecticut Supreme Court prepares to welcome two new justices, the attorney for the Sandy Hook families in their lawsuit against gun manufacturers is requesting the full court hear arguments.

Josh Koskoff of Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder in Bridgeport, filed a motion Friday for an en banc hearing. He represents several families who were affected by the December 2012 shooting that left 20 students and six educators dead. He wrote in his motion that an en banc hearing "affords the people of the state of Connecticut the benefits of the views of all of our justices."

The court has yet to set a date to hear the families' lawsuit, which in essence says the gun makers should be held responsible because the AR-15 rifle used in the shooting should be restricted to the military and law enforcement.

Koskoff declined to elaborate on the motion Tuesday, but attorneys familiar with the case and the Connecticut Supreme Court said it could be beneficial to Koskoff to have seven justices hear the case. Currently, the high court is short two justices, as two nominees are awaiting confirmation.

Last week, Gov. Dannel Malloy nominated Appellate Judges Maria Kahn and Raheem Mullins to fill the vacancies left by Justice Carmen Espinosa, who volunteered for senior status in July, and Justice Dennis Eveleigh, who recently reached the court's mandatory retirement age of 70. The court could have appellate justices fill in to hear cases while waiting for the Legislature to sign off on the two nominations. But all 15 Supreme Court cases to be heard in the second session from Oct. 10 to Oct. 20 are currently scheduled to be heard by only five justices.

Experts watching Connecticut's courts gather that Koskoff would want the case to be heard in front of a full court. "I would speculate that he [Koskoff] may have concerns over the current composition of the court and how they are likely to rule, and believes that a new justice could be beneficial," said Patrick Tomasiewicz, adjunct paralegal studies professor at the University of Hartford and a partner in Hartford's Fazzano & Tomasiewicz. "Josh is a brilliant lawyer and I surmise he hopes the two new justices might be amenable to his argument."

Tomasiewicz said a full contingent of seven justices hearing a case is beneficial to all sides.

"When something is in front of the court that can affect the welfare of our entire state and the rights of many victims and the rights of gun manufacturers, you want all justices there to make sure that the issues are carefully and fully examined," Tomasiewicz said.

Ken Bartschi, a partner with Horton, Dowd, Bartschi & Levesque in Hartford, said Tuesday that he suspects the court would hear the Sandy Hook case en banc even without Koskoff's request. "I'd think they'd do it anyway because of the magnitude of the case," Bartschi said.

Beginning with its September 2009 term, the high court voted to change its policy regarding how it hears cases. Before that, most cases were heard by a panel of five. The court now sits en banc with a panel of seven, barring vacancies and the disqualification of a judge from a particular case.