A New Haven career that started with basketball heroics at Wilbur Cross High and then graduated to legal work for the city school board reached a pinnacle on Wednesday, as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy nominated his first state Supreme Court justice.
That nominee is New Haven’s Lubbie Harper Jr.
Harper is currently an appellate judge. If he is confirmed he will replace Justice Joette Katz, who left the bench to lead the state Department of Children and Families.
A plaque with Harper’s picture hangs in the lobby of Wilbur Cross High School — part of a Wall of Fame/Hall of Fame of the school’s best-ever student athletes.
“He’s been a prominent member of the New Haven community ever since he thrilled us with his basketball skills,” Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said.
Harper went on to a successful law career after earning undergraduate and law degrees from UConn. For years he served as a contract attorney for the Board of Education. He also briefly served as a City Hall-backed developer of affordable housing in the 1980s and then in the 1990s as a fundraiser and campaign chair for John DeStefano’s mayoral election bids. A state judgeship followed.
Harper was named to the appellate court in 2005 by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who was under pressure to nominate non-white judges.
He filled in on the Supreme Court bench to join the majority in making same-sex marriage legal in Connecticut.
“Judge Harper is an experienced, talented and fair jurist, and he will be a welcomed addition to the court,” Malloy said in a written statement. “In his personal time, Judge Harper has given back extensively to his community and the state, and he is well respected both inside the legal community and out.”
“Justice Katz’s exemplary service to the Court leaves big shoes to fill, and I am honored to have this opportunity,” Harper said in the same press release.
Malloy said he’s not concerned that he will have to appoint another justice in two years when Harper, 68, reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.
“This judge based on his distinguished career deserves to be on the Supreme Court,” Malloy said at the Capitol press conference announcing the nomination. “Based on his life story he deserves to be on the Supreme Court. So I can honestly tell you time is not a factor.”
Harper chairs the state criminal justice Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparity, serves as board president for New Haven legal aid, and tutors at Yale Law School.