There’s racial diversity and then there’s professional diversity and while Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has been praised for his racial diversity on the bench, it’s the latter that’s causing advocates to speak out.
A coalition of legal advocates again voiced their concerns Wednesday about the overrepresentation of former prosecutors and corporate attorneys serving as Connecticut judges.
They say few are defense attorneys or civil rights attorneys and that means they have less empathy for those appearing in the courts, likely unconsciously.
“That’s why we see so many unjust outcomes coming out of our judicial system,” Attorney Alex Taubes said.
Grace Brunner, president of the People’s Parity Project at UConn Law, said she came to law school to serve the public interest and not the corporate interests.
“Students shouldn’t have to choose between certain marginalized communities in pursuing public service as a judge,” Brunner said.
The Connecticut Pro-People Judiciary Coalition argued 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.
In a Zoom call Wednesday the group proposed seven candidates from public service for judgeships and said at least four have entered their names for Judicial Selection. Following that Lamont makes a decision of which ones to fill vacancies and go through the legislative process.
The group said there will be one vacancy on the state Supreme Court and dozens in the Superior Court during the next legislative session.
“The previous classes of judicial nominations Governor Lamont has made shows that he is committed to diversifying the bench in several ways, including through professional diversity,” Adam Joseph, Lamont’s spokesman said. “Our office has had discussions with representatives from the People’s Parity Project to listen to their suggestions for future nominations because this administration values their input. We welcome their continued thoughts on how we can further diversify the bench.”