The People’s Parity Project at the University of Connecticut’s School of Law is a part of the Connecticut Pro-People Judiciary Coalition that is calling for Gov. Ned Lamont to nominate more judges with increased professional diversity.
According to a press release, a public letter was sent out a few weeks ago calling on Lamont to nominate judges with backgrounds representing people against powerful corporate and state interests such as public defenders, legal aid and plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Currently, this effort is emphasized as there is a vacancy in the Connecticut Supreme Court after Justice Maria Araujo Kahn was appointed to the federal bench.
“Lamont should nominate a former public defender or legal aid attorney to the state’s top court, where no justices have similar backgrounds,” the press release said.
Steve Kennedy, a student at UConn Law and the organizing and network director for PPP, said he is disappointed to see the lack of professional diversity at the appellate level. “It is incredibly disheartening as a public interest law student to see how neglected public defender, legal aid, plaintiffs’ and labor attorneys have been at the highest levels of our state courts,” Kennedy said in the press release. “These are the attorneys closest to the people of our state impacted most intimately by our laws, but far too often that experience is considered a liability rather than a strength.”
A released report from the People’s Parity Project at UConn Law in March 2022 reported the small percentage of judges that worked with legal aid and public defense out of 136 judges studied.
“…only 6.3% had public defense experience and 4.9% had worked in legal aid. At the appellate level, the disparities were even more stark with 50% of judges having corporate experience, 25% with criminal prosecution experience, 6.3% with legal aid experience, and none with public defense experience,” the report said.
Public defenders represent a defendant who is unable to afford legal assistance and legal aid is free legal advice and representation for someone who is unable to afford it. The press release said the lack of experience in these fields in the state court is unfair, as most judges have experience as corporate attorneys and prosecutors, therefore potentially impacting their judgment.
“Criminal cases before former prosecutors were found to end in both more guilty verdicts and longer criminal sentences than cases before judges with other backgrounds. Former corporate attorneys and prosecutors were also found to side more frequently with corporate defendants in employment discrimination cases,” according to the press release.
Kathy Flaherty, executive director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, said that in order to have equal justice, judges must represent backgrounds from all areas of law.
“If Connecticut courts are truly going to represent the ideal of ‘equal justice under the law,’ the professional resumes of individuals nominated to serve as judges must be more diverse. One’s sense of what comprises ‘justice’ depends, in part, on one’s life experiences,” Flaherty said in the press release.
This is not just an initiative in Connecticut, as the effort has also been recognized nationwide to increase the number of public interest attorneys on the federal bench, according to the press release.
The People’s Parity Project is a nationwide network of law students and attorneys whose mission is to build a justice system that values people over profits. The chapter at UConn Law specifically focuses on worker’s rights, court reform and providing UConn Law students with legislative and policy experience. Along with the PPP at UConn Law, other members of the Connecticut Pro-People Judiciary Coalition include the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Connecticut Justice Alliance and more.
The full report is available at https://www.peoplesparity.org/ctjudiciary.