The high-profile legal appeal by families of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims who sued the manufacturer of the gun used in the 2012 massacre will be heard by a state Supreme Court panel that will include only three sitting full-time justices.
Justices Richard Palmer, Andrew McDonald and Richard Robinson are scheduled to hear the case on Nov. 14. They will be joined by senior Justice Christine Vertefuille, who only hears cases on an as-needed basis, and three appellate court judges, Raheem Mullins, Nina F. Elgo and Bethany J. Alvord.
Two current justices — Chief Justice Chase Rogers and newly appointed Gregory D’Auria — won’t hear the case. Rogers is not available on that date and D’Auria has recused himself, judicial officials said. Two other recently retired judges have not yet been replaced.
Mullins has been nominated to become a Supreme Court justice but has not yet been approved by the legislature. He is an appointee of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, as is Elgo. Alvord was appointed by former Gov. Jodi Rell.
Attorney Josh Koskoff, who is presenting the 10 victims’ families that filed the lawsuit against Remington Outdoor Co., which makes the Bushmaster used in the shooting, requested a full panel of justices.
Koskoff said Thursday that his clients wanted as robust and diverse a court as they could get.
“We’re very pleased with the panel. It is really a diverse group,” Koskoff said. “We’re very eager to present our case. It is the right court and the right time and we have always been unflinching that this is a righteous case that deserves a full hearing.” A lawyer for Remington did not return a message.
The families are appealing the dismissal of the lawsuit by Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis.
Judicial officials said appellate judges are picked to sit on a Supreme Court case when needed and on a rotating basis.
Four of the seven members who will hear the Sandy Hook case are Malloy appointees. Since the Sandy Hook shooting, Malloy has been a vocal advocate for tougher gun laws. Observers of the court said who appointed a justice does not necessarily indicate what will happen in a case.
Attorney Daniel Klau said the state court is usually nowhere near as political as the U.S. Supreme Court.
“There were judges previously who had a distinct ideology but not so with the panel hearing this case,” Klau said. “Many of them haven’t had to write cases as high profile as this one.”
Whatever the court rules will be closely scrutinized by people on both sides of the gun issue. The case has drawn national attention as evidenced by the number of Amicus briefs that have been filed for both sides.
The National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Newtown, have both filed briefs on behalf of Remington while Brady Center Against Gun Violence, a group of trauma doctors and the state’s attorney generals office have filed briefs on behalf of the victims families.
The families of 10 victims filed the lawsuit in January 2015, seeking to hold Remington liable for the shooting in which 20 first-graders and six adults were killed because it marketed a gun to the public it knew was made for military use.
Adam Lanza shot his way into the Newtown school on Dec. 14, 2012, and fired 154 bullets in about five minutes from a Bushmaster AR-15.
The lawsuit also named Camfour Holding LLP, the gun’s distributor, and Riverview Gun Sales Inc., the East Windsor gun shop where Nancy Lanza, Adam's mother, bought the AR-15.
In her written ruling, Bellis agreed with attorneys for Remington that the lawsuit "falls squarely within the broad immunity" provided to gun manufacturers and dealers by federal law, specifically the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. She dismissed the case against Remington and Camfour.