Garvin Ambrose
Garvin Ambrose (Gary Lewis)

Connecticut State Victim Advocate Garvin Ambrose has announced his resignation from the post, less than 16 months after being appointed to the job.

According to a news release distributed by the office of Gov. Dannel Malloy, Ambrose intends on relocating to his hometown of Chicago to accept a new professional opportunity.

Before coming to Connecticut, Ambrose served as executive assistant state’s attorney and legislative liaison in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago, where he served as an advocate on issues of civil, criminal, juvenile and family law, and assisted in the development of legislative initiatives and policy. Prior to that, he had served as assistant state’s attorney in the same office’s Juvenile Justice Bureau.

“While I am saddened by my personal decision to resign from this great office, I am confident that the successes of my wonderful staff and I over the past 15 months have once again made the Office of the Victim Advocate a relevant part of the state system on behalf of crime victims,” Ambrose said. “It is my hope that the relationships that we repaired and gained, the policy and legislative victories that we attained, as well as the necessary rebranding of the Office of the Victim Advocate will continue in my absence.”

Ambrose was appointed after Michelle Cruz, a former Massachusetts prosecutor, left the office among published reports that she and the governor differed sharply on a state initiative that allowed inmates to reduce their sentences through good behavior and participation in educational programs.

Cruz, who had been appointed by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell in 2007, had replaced Jim Papillo, a West Hartford lawyer who told the Law Tribune in 2013 that the position was not an easy one to handle politically.

“It’s pretty clear the position calls for you to be part of the criminal justice system and work with all of the departments and agencies but also to police them,” said Papillo. “And when you speak out against policies that are adverse to crime victims, you’re going to get very powerful people in the state angry at you.”

The Victim Advocate operates as the ombudsman between victims of crime and the criminal justice system and evaluates the delivery of state services to victims. Responsibilities also include recommending system-wide improvements to the General Assembly, working with private and public agencies to enforce the constitutional rights of victims, and filing appearances in court to advocate for victims.

Ambrose leaves just as a new Victims’ Rights Enforcement Advisory Committee, which he chaired, began meeting. In April, he told the Law Tribune that the commission was the first of its type in the country. Made up of lawyers, Judicial Branch officials, police chiefs and others, it’s mission is to review policies and services afforded to crime victims and make specific recommendations about how well the state complies with the constitutional and statutory rights of victims.

Ambrose told the Law Tribune that while Connecticut had good laws on the books protecting the rights of crime victims, it was doing a poor job enforcing them.

He said that only 14 states have an official state victims’ advocate office. Yet, he said, Connecticut is behind states such as Oregon and Alaska, as well as the federal government, in enforcement. The goal of the commission, said Ambrose, is to push Connecticut forward so it is “setting a standard for the country.”

For example, he said, while there are 45 court buildings in Connecticut, yet there are only 28 staffers from the Office of Victim Services in those courthouses. There is a “huge necessity for more advocates to service the crime victims who may go untouched in some of these courts, especially the juvenile matters courts where only three of the 12 courts have a dedicated [victim advocate],” Ambrose said.

“I would also like to personally thank Governor Malloy and his administration for their unwavering support of the” Office of the Victim Advocate. “From his efforts to increase the office’s levels of budgetary appropriations to his recent creation of the Victims’ Rights Enforcement Advisory Commission, Governor Malloy has remained a steadfast supporter of crime victims in this state.”

Ambrose, who was the unanimous first-choice selection by the Victim Advocate Advisory Committee to fill the position, was appointed by the Governor in February 2013. He intends on relocating to his hometown of Chicago to accept a new professional opportunity.

“I want to thank Garvin for his service to the people of Connecticut,” said Governor Malloy. “Working with criminal justice professionals, crime victims and advocates, Garvin and his staff have been strong voices in pursuing the interests of victims in their efforts to seek justice. I wish him well on whatever opportunity comes next.”

Among his accomplishments during his tenure is the recent effort to effectuate the creation of the Governor’s Victims’ Rights Enforcement Advisory Commission, which places Connecticut at the forefront of the discussion on the enforcement of the constitutional and statutory rights of crime victims.

A seven-member Victim Advocate Advisory Committee will meet next week to begin the process of evaluating potential replacements, Michael Lawlor, Malloy’s chief criminal justice policy adviser and the committee’s chairman, told the CT Mirror news website. The governor must appoint a new advocate from the committee’s list of recommended finalists.