Superior Court Judge Dawne Westbrook, a Black woman with more than a decade on the bench and a background in civil rights work, was nominated Thursday by Gov. Ned Lamont to serve on the Connecticut Appellate Court.
If approved by the legislature, Westbrook, who currently serves as the chief administrative judge for juvenile matters, will replace appellate Judge Eliot Prescott, who took senior status earlier this week.
“Judge Westbrook has served the Connecticut Superior Court with distinction for more than a decade and has taken a hands-on role with overseeing the administration of thousands of cases involving children under 18 years old,” Lamont said in a press release. “I believe that her experience and skills will be a valuable contribution to the important mission of the Appellate Court.”
In a brief statement, Westbrook said it was an honor to be nominated and thanked the governor for his confidence allowing her to further serve the state.
Prior to her nomination to the court by former Gov. Jodi Rell in 2009, Westbrook’s legal experience included work as assistant counsel for the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities as well as serving as legal redress counsel for the Connecticut NAACP.
Lamont’s choice of Westbrook reflects criticisms leveled at the administration for his recent judicial nominees, which have been white, former prosecutors including recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Nora Dannehy. Some lawmakers and the advocacy group The People’s Parity Project, have pushed for more diversity on Connecticut’s bench, which they contend is weighted too heavily toward former prosecutors and corporate attorneys.
Thursday’s press release announcing Westbrook’s nomination included quotes from both co-chairs of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, including Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, who said last month he had personally expressed concerns to Lamont regarding the diversity of his nominees.
Winfield said Westbrook’s extensive experience made her an ideal nominee for the appellate post.
“With over a decade of service on the Connecticut Superior Court, Judge Westbrook has demonstrated unwavering dedication to upholding the law and pursuing justice,” Winfield said. “Her commitment to public service and involvement in various community organizations showcase her well-rounded and compassionate approach to justice. It is with confidence that I support her nomination to the Appellate Court, where her knowledge and integrity will undoubtedly benefit our judicial system.”
Earlier this year, the People’s Parity Project released a report calling for greater representation of lawyers with civil rights, public defense, and legal aid backgrounds on the state bench. The report found that a judge’s past experiences often 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.
In an email Thursday, Steve Kennedy, the report’s author, said the group was still researching Westbrook, but was encouraged to see Lamont nominating an appellate judge with civil rights and criminal defense experience, “which are sorely needed on the state’s appellate courts.”