Connecticut Supreme Court
The Connecticut Supreme Court building in Hartford Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

A coalition of legal advocates will voice concerns on Tuesday about an overrepresentation of former prosecutors and corporate attorneys serving as Connecticut judges. The meeting comes as a legislative committee prepares to vet a new class of judicial nominees later this week. 

The Connecticut Pro-People Judiciary Coalition will host a remote town hall to discuss efforts to diversify the professional background of judges serving in Connecticut. The meeting follows a report released this month by the People’s Parity Project at UConn Law, which called on the state to elevate more attorneys with backgrounds in legal aid, public defense and civil rights. 

Professional diversification of the bench is important, the report argued, because studies have suggested that judges’ past experiences color their rulings. For instance, a judge who never worked as a defense attorney may be more likely to order harsher sentences in criminal cases and a former corporate attorney more likely to find in favor of corporations in employment cases. 

Connecticut’s bench is currently unbalanced, according to the report which found that 38.5% of judges had a background in corporate law and 21% were former prosecutors while just 6.3% previously worked as public defenders and 4.9% worked in legal aid. 

The divide was more pronounced on the state’s appellate courts where 50% of judges had experience representing corporations and 25% had spent time as prosecutors while just one judge, a Supreme Court justice, had a background including legal aid.

“Despite the impact judges’ professional backgrounds have on their decisions on the bench, little attention has been paid to the professional diversity of Connecticut’s bench,” Steve Kennedy, the report’s author, wrote. 

Last month, Gov. Ned Lamont made 20 judicial nominations to fill vacancies on the state Superior Court bench. The class included three former legislators, an executive agency commissioner, nine women and 11 men. 

In a press release, the governor stressed the importance of diversity.

“Our court system works best when it reflects the diversity, experience, and understanding of the people it serves,” Lamont said. 

Senate President Martin Looney and Majority Leader Bob Duff also issued a statement praising the breadth of experience held by the 20 Superior Court nominees and two family support magistrates nominated by the governor. 

“Combined, these men and women have hundreds of years of legal experience in both the public and private sectors, at the state and federal levels, in areas of expertise ranging from drug trafficking and felony prosecutions to criminal defense, civil matters, probate, employment law, juvenile matters, estates, arbitration, corporate law, foreclosures, habeas corpus, and every other aspect of law that could conceivably come before them as Superior Court judges,” Looney and Duff said. 

On Friday, the legislature’s Judiciary Committee will review the governor’s candidates, hear public input, and decide whether to advance their nominations. Barring any surprises, they are expected to win the panel’s stamp of approval. 

Tuesday’s meeting of the Pro-People Judiciary Coalition will feature Kennedy, the organizing and network director of the People’s Parity Project, and Christina Quaranta, executive director of the Connecticut Justice Alliance. An announcement of the 2 p.m. event, refers to Lamont’s slate of nominees as a “very slight improvement” in professional diversity that still favored candidates with corporate or prosecutorial backgrounds. 

In an email, Kennedy praised the nominees but said Lamont’s picks lacked a focus shown by President Joe Biden, who has endeavored to diversify the professional backgrounds of federal court judges. 

“The current class of nominees has some excellent names on it, and as a coalition, we are not speaking out against any particular nominee, but the composition of the class is still relatively similar to the current bench, with the majority having corporate or prosecutorial experience,” Kennedy said.