Friday, January 16, 2015

Judge Thomas Parker and Allegations of Racial Discrimination

A disturbing chain of events was exposed today at a public hearing before the Judiciary Committee. It's not the first time that members of the public have come forward to testify in opposition to the renomination of a sitting judge, but it's one of the few times it seems to have actually mattered.

The judge in this case was Thomas F. Parker, a seasoned Judge of the Connecticut Superior Court seeking reappointment for another eight-year term on the bench. The hearing itself was not unlike many others, with a full agenda of many new nominees before Judiciary Committee members, as well as an even larger number of judges seeking renomination. As a side note, it is rather interesting to hear the words used by Committee members who often say "reappointment" rather than "renomination," as if to suggest that it's already a done deal and a mere formality that they need to appear before the Committee. Members can often be heard making brief comments from the dais, congratulating the judge for their reappointment, yet failing to ask any questions about the previous eight-year term, which is the very point of the hearing. It is not until the vetting process is complete and a vote is cast that an individual is passed with a favorable (or unfavorable) recommendation from Committee to the House and Senate for a full vote on a specific Resolution regarding re-nomination by the Governor which, if passed, becomes the confirmation of that re-nomination. There is never an actual appointment or re-appointment.

Let me get back on track. In the case of Judge Parker, there had been serious allegations filed by a litigant from the New London Superior Court. Once the video of the hearing becomes available, we'll link to it here so you can watch and listen for yourself. The details were and are disturbing, including allegations of racial bias, discrimination, intimidation and retaliation - even including allegations that the judge had leaned into the witness box from his place on the bench and grabbed the African-American litigant by the wrist. Surely had the reverse happened, the Judicial Marshals would have rushed the bench and it would have made the evening news. In this case, Judge Parker gave wholesale denials of the allegations. When questioned by the few members of the Judiciary Committee courageous enough to seek the truth, the answers were either denials or evasive. You can review the official transcript of the public hearing to decide for yourself.

Later, when members of the public finally had their turn to give oral testimony, the litigant who had been patiently waiting in the first few rows the entire time, stepped forward when called. Mr. Sylvester Traylor gave clear, specific and deliberate testimony, recounting details of his interactions with Judge Parker that bore little resemblance to the judicial demeanor suggested by Parker during his testimony.

Mr. Traylor supplemented his oral testimony with written testimony which left little doubt that legislators were going to have a difficult time ignoring the serious nature of the allegations before them. Even though a complaint to the Judicial Review Council had been dismissed, there was clear and convincing evidence before the Committee that the conduct alleged, if true, was a serious breach of judicial conduct and could not be accepted, not in 2015 and not given the diverse population that regularly enters Connecticut courts each and every day.

UPDATE: We'll revisit this with more thorough detail, but it appears that the Judiciary Committee were saved from the unpleasant task of having to vote against Judge Parker. After prolonged silence on the issue, Co-Chairman Eric Coleman announced that the matter would not advance to a vote as the Governor had rescinded the re-nomination of Judge Parker.  

No comments:

Post a Comment