State Supreme Court Justice at the center of many emotionally charged cases, retires after 27 years on the bench


Conn. (WTNH) — One of the longest careers in the history of the Connecticut Supreme Court ends Wednesday. Justice Richard Palmer is retiring after 27 years on the bench.

By state law, State Supreme Court Justices must retire when they turn 70 years old.

Palmer’s career decisions included highly emotional cases on same-sex marriage and the death penalty. And his 2017 reappointment hearing was anything but quiet.

Under Justice Richard Palmer nearly three decades of Connecticut case law was decided.

I think it says something about him that he’s willing to put his neck on the line, because for every person who is happy with a decision…you have someone who is unhappy with a decision. And Dick was going to do what was right all the time.

– Attny. Stan Twardy, Former Gov. Weicker Chief of Staff

Some of those majority decisions include enabling Sandy Hook tragedy families the right to sue the manufacturer of the assault rifle that killed their children, unlocking the files held by the Catholic Church on clergy abuse, and opening town beaches to the public.

A former Trinity College alumn, Attny. Stan Twardy and Justice Palmer met at the Hartford school. Then continued their friendship as both became accomplished attorneys and moved up in rank to U.S. Attorney and Chief State’s Attorney respectively.

“Being able to reach out to people and to touch people at their core…[Palmer] knows what’s going to impact a person,” remarked Twardy.

Attorney Stanley Twardy was the Chief of Staff to former Governor Lowell Weicker back in 1991. Then Chief State’s Attorney Palmer was playing tennis with Weicker when the “big ask” was made.

Twardy recalled, “One morning I knew the Governor was playing tennis. Dick showed up at my office at the Capitol and said ‘what do you have to do with this?’ I said, ‘what do you mean?’ ‘The Governor just asked me if I wanted to go to the Supreme Court.’ I said to Dick, ‘that’s the Governor’s call, not me.'”

Twardy says Palmer is compassionate, but fair. “Dick has empathy, intellect, and integrity.”

There are 7 justices on the State Supreme Court. They serve 8 years, but can be reappointed.

In 2017 when Palmer went through a reappointment hearing, he was challenged by a Republican state senator regarding a majority opinion concerning the death penalty. The Senator questioned Palmer’s record of upholding multiple death sentences and the new ruling in which Palmer concluded it was against the Constitution. Palmer’s response was “the statute changed; I have not changed my mind on the death penalty. It was only with the passage of a bifurcated statute that I ultimately concluded it was unconstitutional.”

Filling a vacancy on the court is a big deal. This will Governor Ned Lamont’s first high court nominee.

His spokesperson Max Reiss said of the task, “Governor Lamont is in the process of evaluating potential candidates and plans to nominate a candidate in time for that person to be confirmed and begin hearing cases when the Court returns for its September term.”

Judge Palmer’s last case was a few weeks ago. It was held virtually because of COVID-19.

The Chief Justice, Richard A. Robinson praised Palmer’s career saying, “He has always had the vision and courage to move the law forward, or correct an injustice.”

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