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Connecticut Bar Association’s Silence at Crucial Moments

Be careful what you say. That was the message from the top three officials of the Connecticut Bar Association to the organization's thousands of members, of which I am one. The June 13 statement was prompted by perpetually angry Donald Trump supporters who lambasted prosecutors, jurors and Judge Juan Merchan after the former president was convicted this month on 34 counts of violating New York law through a hush-money scheme in 2016.

CBA officials Maggie Castinado, James T. Shearin and Emily A. Gianquinto condemned, but did not name, public officials who had issued statements calling the trial a farce, a fraud and rigged. They denounced Judge Merchan as corrupt and unethical and claimed that the jury was biased and prepared to return guilty verdicts from the start.

The statement condemned social media posts that attempted to violate the confidentiality of jurors' identities. What it did not allege was that Connecticut lawyers had participated in these attacks on the rule of law. Towards the end, the trio's sermon got to the point. “It is our job as lawyers,” they wrote, “to defend the courts and our judges. As individuals and as an association, we cannot allow the charged political climate in which we live to dismantle the third branch of government. By remaining silent, we are complicit in this endeavor.”

And then three days later, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, a lawyer, had to spoil everything by unleashing the same kind of hyperbole. On CNN, he called the Supreme Court “brazenly corrupt and brazenly political.” Murphy added that Justice Clarence Thomas was “just a con artist,” while Justice Samuel Alito was an open political partisan.

As of Friday, CBA referees had not issued a statement reprimanding Murphy.

The CBA is no stranger to silence at crucial moments. Six years ago, a mob of anti-Semites attacked the reappointment of Judge Jane Emons to the Superior Court. Judge Emons was the target of horrific rhetoric. The CBA fired no lightning bolts when the House of Representatives refused to vote on her reappointment, forcing her out of office.

A few years ago, I wrote about Alice Bruno, a Connecticut judge who didn't show up for work for two years but continued to collect her salary and benefits. Emails showed that many people knew Judge Bruno was missing, but they kept quiet. Bruno's fate was decided in a secret process when she was awarded a disability pension that currently pays her more than $5,000 every two weeks. She worked as a Superior Court judge, often irregularly, for just four years before she stopped showing up for work in 2019.

Before becoming a judge, Bruno served as the executive director of the Connecticut Bar Association for 18 months. During the Bruno affair, the bar remained silent, undermining public confidence in the judiciary.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published a sensational investigation into the horrific story of a federal bankruptcy judge and his personal relationship with Elizabeth Freeman, a lawyer who had been his partner and law clerk in Houston. One of the country's largest law firms, Kirkland & Ellis, had hired Freeman to handle the cases of her friend, Judge David R. Jones.

An anonymous letter revealed the shocking conflicts that exist in the country's busiest bankruptcy court. Michael Van Deelan, a small investor in a company that filed for bankruptcy in the Houston court, felt he had not been treated fairly in the company's restructuring. Van Deelan obtained a copy of the letter and submitted it to the court, seeking to have Jones removed from his case. Van Deelan's request was denied and the letter was sealed, the Journal reported.

Van Deelan discovered through an internet search that Jones and Freeman had owned a home together since 2017. Many lawyers appear to have known that the two were in a romantic relationship. The revelation would have ended a sweet arrangement that was a godsend for the firms and their bankruptcy clients who had brought Freeman into their cases.

No one said a word. Only Van Deelan, a 74-year-old retired math teacher, brought justice where corruption reigned. It took a judge of the Court of Appeal just a week to find that Jones was guilty of a crime because he had not disclosed his relationship with Freeman. He resigned.

It takes no courage for bar leaders to condemn those discredited officials who wore red ties and made pilgrimages to New York to stand outside the courthouse and moan and moan that the justice system was targeting the despicable demagogue Donald Trump.

Shining a bright light on when something goes wrong in the judicial branch of government and no one is paying attention protects the integrity of the system.

Kevin Rennie can be reached at kfrennie@yahoo.com

Anna Harden

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