Members of the Judiciary Committee accused Gov. M. Jodi Rell Tuesday of refusing to meet with members of the legislature’s Black and Latino caucus regarding recruitment of minority candidates to the Superior Court bench, but Rell’s spokesman says she did meet with at least one of the 20 caucus members and is just as appalled at the lack of minority candidates on the Judicial Selection Commission list.
Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, said he is encouraging Rell to reconsider her decision not to personally meet with the 20 members of the Black and Latino caucus. He said while each of her nominees were approved Monday by the Judiciary Committee, “the votes were highly controversial,” with about 10 votes against each of the four white candidates she chose to nominate.
“We appreciate their concern, but their blame is misplaced,” Rell’s spokesman Chris Cooper said Tuesday.
Cooper said Rell has made 30 appointments during her tenure. Of those 30, he said 11 have been women, four were African American, and one was Asian American. “The Governor completely agrees there should be more minority representation on the bench—that is why she has done aggressive outreach,” he said.
On Monday the Black and Latino caucus said two of the 30 appointments were African Americans and none were Latino.
According to recent statistics from the American Bar Association, there are only 17 African American and 5 Latino judges out of a total of 196 judges in the state. According to Rell’s office there are 164 individuals approved for judgeships by the Judicial Selection Commission and only five of the individuals are minority candidates.
Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, said none of the nominees Monday “had a real understanding of the criminal justice system,” and the nominations were made late in the legislative session.
Lawlor said racial disparity within the judicial system has been a consistent theme in the legislature. He said not only is there racial disparity on the bench, but also within the prison population, which is 72 percent minority. The recent debates on criminal justice have brought these issues of racial disparity to the forefront.
On Monday Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said “justice should not be one race on one side, and one race on the other side.” She said subconsciously we are telling people, “those being judged are brown, and people making the judgment are not brown.”
McDonald said he voted in favor of Rell’s nominees Monday, but they could “face contentious votes on the floor of the House and the Senate.”
The four nominees Monday included Barbara Brazzel-Massaro of Trumbull, Mary E.S. Sommer of Stamford, Terence A. Zemetis of Meriden, and Mark T. Gould of New Haven.