Judge Carmen Espinosa, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor whose judicial career has been a string of firsts for Hispanics, was nominated today by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to the Connecticut Supreme Court.
Espinosa, 63, of Southington was the first Hispanic judge in Connecticut when appointed to the Superior Court by Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. in 1992. Malloy named her to the Appellate Court in March 2011.
If confirmed by the General Assembly, she now will become the first to serve on the state’s highest court. Her nomination comes less than two weeks after Malloy nominated his general counsel, Andrew McDonald, to the court.
“It can’t go without saying she is a trail blazer,” Malloy said, introducing her as his nominee in the Old Judiciary Room of the State Capitol.
Espinosa would succeed Justice C. Ian McLachlan, who has reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
On the Appellate Court, Espinosa succeeded Lubbie Harper Jr., whom Malloy had elevated to the Supreme Court. McDonald has been nominated to succeed Harper, who also has turned 70.
Espinosa, whose parents migrated from Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland in 1952, eventually settling in New Britain, is the first in her family to attend college.
She graduated from Central Connecticut State College in 1971, then obtained a master’s degree from Brown University. She was a language teacher in Southington, but quickly concluded her ambitions lay beyond the classroom.
After earning a law degree from George Washington University, Espinosa joined the FBI, then was a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Connecticut 12 years, until Weicker named her to the bench.
“Words cannot express my gratitude for the opportunity you have given me,” she told Malloy, standing before an audience that included her 89-year-old mother, Anada, and her three children: Elisa, 25; Emily, 17; and Daniel, 15.
Malloy appointees could hold three of the seven seats on the court by the end of the year. He will have an opportunity to name another justice this fall: Justice Flemming L. Norcott Jr. turns 70 on Oct. 11.
Malloy is the first Democratic governor in two decades to control appointments to the bench, although Connecticut governors traditionally accepted recommendations from legislative leaders of both parties for some Superior Court nominations.
“It has been my goal to have a judiciary that reflects the diversity of our state. With this nomination and past nominations, we are taking dramatic steps toward that goal,” Malloy said.
If confirmed, McDonald would be the first openly gay justice. Three of Malloy’s four judicial appointments his first year were racial minorities: Sybil Richards to the Superior Court, Espinosa to the Appellate Court and Harper to the Supreme Court. Richards and Harper are black. His other first-year appointment was Superior Court Judge Michael Sheldon to the Appellate Court.
Malloy said diversity is “a factor, but not the controlling factor” in his judicial selections.
His choice of Espinosa was immediately applauded by Sen. John A. Kissel of Enfield, the ranking Republican senator on the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which will hold confirmation hearings on the nominations of Espinosa and McDonald.
“I strongly support Judge Espinosa’s elevation to the Supreme Court, and I commend Gov. Malloy for making this nomination,” Kissel said. “We continue to seek to have a broad range of racial and ethnic minorities within Connecticut’s judicial system, and this is a wonderful selection. In her two decades as a jurist, Judge Espinosa has displayed fairness, thoughtfulness and an even temperament. Her vast experience on the criminal justice side of the law, combined with her appellate experience, will make her an excellent justice.”
The state’s 171-member judiciary was 81 percent white and 65 percent male as of Jan. 3, with 21 black, five Hispanic and five Asian jurists, according to the state courts. White males comprised 52 percent, white females 29 percent, black males 9 percent and Hispanic males 2 percent.
There were 7 black women, one Latina and one Asian woman on the bench.
Nationally, about 70 percent of all lawyers are men, as are trial judges.
Malloy is limited in his judicial choices to lawyers screened and endorsed by the Judicial Selection Commission, a 12-member panel of lawyers and non-lawyers appointed by the governor and legislative leaders of both parties. But he is free to encourage lawyers to submit their names to the commission, and he said he has repeatedly encouraged the bar to broaden the pool of potential nominees.
“We have an obligation in the legal community, as you know I am an attorney, to buld a bench from which to choose our judges,” Malloy said.
The state is authorized to have seven Supreme Court, 9 Appellate Court and 180 Superior Court judges and justices. With only 156 Superior Court positions filled, the governor is expected to fill slightly more than half the two dozen vacancies.
Follow Mark Pazniokas on Twitter @CTMirrorPaz
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