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Women At The Top Of Connecticut’s Judiciary

March 20, 1989

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The top judges in Connecticut’s federal district, state Supreme Court and state Appellate Court are women, but the members of this unique judicial troika say women still have ground to make up.

Ellen Bree Burns is chief judge for the U.S. District Court in Connecticut, Ellen Ash Peters is chief justice of the state Supreme Court and Antoinette L. Dupont is chief judge of the Appellate Court.

The state attorney general also is a woman. Clarine Nardi Riddle was promoted to acting attorney general when her former boss, Joseph Lieberman, won a U.S. Senate seat in November.

No other state has a similar combination of top female jurists, and the judges say the distinction underscores not how far women have come, but how far they have to go.

″Overall, one can’t be overjoyed by the fact that a few of us do have positions that are conspicuous,″ said Peters, 58, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1978 and became chief justice in 1984.

″There’s more to be done and the fact that I’m the chief justice, Antoinette Dupont is the chief judge in the Appellate Court, Ellen Bree Burns is the chief judge in the federal district and Clarine Nardi Riddle is attorney general, doesn’t mean it’s over.″

The country’s only other female state Supreme Court chief justice is Dorothy Comstock Riley in Michigan.

In the federal system, Judith W. Rogers serves as chief judge for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

Of the state appellate courts, only Dupont serves as a chief judge, said Philip A. Lattimore, staff director for the National Association of Women Judges in Williamsburg, Va.

Nationally, 1,200 of 25,000 state judges are women. These include 30 women supreme court justices and 66 appellate judges, Lattimore said.

″We are at a point in our history where women are entering the state courts of last resort (supreme courts),″ he said.

The ranks of female jurists is bound to increase because about half of the students in law schools now are women, Lattimore said.

Elaine Martin, an assistant political science professor at Eastern Michigan State University, said women are bringing a fresh perspective to courtrooms.

″Some say they are more compassionate and others say they are more attuned to gender bias,″ said Martin, who has a $10,000 grant from the Americang a report on gender bias in Connecticut courts based on testimony gathered during public hearings last year.

The report is expected to cite examples of bias including male attorneys frequently addressing female witnesses by their first names while being more formal with male witnesses.

Members of the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee have asked female judicial candidates whether their family life would interfere with judicial affairs. One candidate was asked if she would be able to meet mortgage payments on a judge’s salary.

The three judges say signs of continuing gender bias don’t suprise them. They saw plenty while breaking into the legal profession in the 1950s.

″You were often told: ’We don’t hire women because our clients don’t like women lawyers,‴ said 60-year-old Dupont, recalling her days as an attorney in New York City.

Burns, 65, recalled the cold reception she got at lawyers’ function years ago.

″I went to a New Haven County Bar Association meeting and they told me I was in the wrong place,″ she said. ″I assured them that if this was a bar association meeting, then I was in the right place.″

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