The state’s legal community has lost a prominent member with the passing away of Samuel Freedman, a retired Superior Court judge and former legislator who helped create the state’s public defender system.

Freedman died Nov 4 after a brief illness. He was 85 and lived in Westport.

“My experience with Judge Freedman as a trial judge was he was always someone who was fair,” said Thomas Ullmann, a public defender for the New Haven Judicial District who tried some criminal cases in Freedman’s courtroom in the late 1980′s. “He honored constitutional rights and let you try your case; he wouldn’t rush you. I’m saddened to hear about his passing.”

It was common knowledge that Freedman served as a legislator and chaired the subcommittee that created the public defender’s office in the state in the early 1970s. In that legislative capacity, Freedman worked to make public defenders’ salaries equal to those of prosecutors. “He was ahead of his time,” said Susan Storey, the state’s chief public defender.

Freedman was nominated to the bench in 1978 by Gov. Ella Grasso and presided over criminal and civil cases in the Bridgeport, New Haven and Norwalk courthouses. After reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70, he served as a judge trial referee until his death.

Ullmann occasionally ran into Freedman when both were teaching at Quinnipiac University School of Law. “I know he thoroughly enjoyed teaching young people about trial situations,” Ullmann said.

Even though Freedman, a gradute of Yale Law School, was instrumental in creating the state office that provides criminal defense for the poor, he was tough on both prosecutors and defense lawyers at trial.

“He wasn’t a judge that you when you got assigned to him you felt like, ‘Uh-oh, one side or the other,’” Ullmann said. “He was a straight-shooter and he was fair in the courtroom. He applied constitutional principles and treated the process with dignity and respect.”

Judge Aaron Ment, who retired from the Superior Court in 1983 before serving as chief court administrator for many years, knew Freedman for more than 30 years, from the days when Freedman worked as a partner in Freedman, Peck and Freedman in Bridgeport and Westport. Ment knew Freedman best from his time on the criminal bench.

“He was a very thoughtful person,” Ment said. “He was a guy who took the job very seriously, he tried to do the best he could every single day. He never took his responsibility lightly and he knew what he was doing on the bench would affect people seriously.”•