Carmen Espinosa, the first Hispanic judge appointed to the state Appellate Court, may well make history again.
On Monday, she was nominated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to fill an opening on the state Supreme Court. If confirmed by the legislature, she would be Connecticut's first Hispanic justice, as well.
Malloy, in press conference, praised the former FBI agent. "Judge Carmen Espinosa has had an impressive career and is among our state's most respected jurists," said Malloy.
Espinosa thanked the governor, saying, "I fully understand the responsibility that will fall upon my shoulders if confirmed." She said she hoped her nomination "serves as an example to young Hispanic children that anything is possible if they stay in school and use education as the bridge to success."
Espinosa, who was born in Puerto Rico, taught French and Spanish in the Southington school system, and then became an FBI agent. She was plucked by then-U.S. Attorney Richard Blumenthal to become an assistant U.S. attorney in Connecticut. She served for nine years in the office's Criminal Division and two years in the Civil Division. During that time, she received the U.S. Attorney General's Distinguished Service Award and the U.S. Department of Justice Special Achievement Award.
In 1992, Gov. Lowell P. Weicker nominated Espinosa,to the Superior Court bench, where she developed a reputation as for strictness with criminal defendants and lawyers. Her liberal use of her contempt powers became the topic for a Supreme Court decision in Banks v. Thomas, in 1997, after she sentenced defendant Duane Thomas to nine months in prison for refusing to stop talking. The Supreme Court ruled that it was not criminal contempt for Thomas to say the judge disrespected him, and reduced the imprisonment time to three months.
Espinosa would fill the second of two vacancies on the top court. She would be replacing C. Ian McLachlan, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 this past summer. Instead of taking senior status and becoming a judge trial referee, McLachlan returned to private practice.
In November, another vacancy was created when Lubbie Harper Jr. turned 70. In December, Malloy nominated his chief lawyer, Andrew J. McDonald, to fill that vacancy. Both nominees will go before the legislative Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings, and both need to be confirmed by the entire General Assembly.
Bringing the court back to its full complement of seven members would be a significant step. More than a year ago, Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers instituted a policy of having the full seven-member court sit en banc, instead of in panels of five justices, to lend more authority to the opinions of the court.