Superior Court Judge Anna Ficeto got her first look at Connecticut's judiciary after her appointment in January, when she attended a training session for judges and noticed a lack of women in the crowd.
A friend had warned her in advance about the male dominance. "I remember going in and thinking, 'She's kind of right,'" Ficeto said. "You realize, considering the numbers of judges in the state, there really aren't that many women."
Ficeto, who currently presides over criminal cases in Hartford, is one of 56 women who are currently Superior Court judges. She applied to be a judge in 2006 and got a call from the governor's office six years later. Others who were appointed with her, including Judge Maureen McCabe Murphy, had been on the list for 10 years or longer. "It's a fairly lengthy application process," Ficeto said.
Still, Connecticut has seen an increase in the number of women appointed as judges in state courts over the past decade. With Governor Dannel Malloy's appointment of Ficeto, Murphy and Donna Nelson Heller to Superior Court judgeships earlier this year, 33 percent of Connecticut's 180 Superior, Appellate and Supreme Court judges are women. That percentage, up from 25 percent in 2002, nearly mirrors the percentage of Connecticut Bar Association members who are women -- 34 percent.
However, a recent study released by the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society at the State University of New York-Albany showed that women hold only about 25 percent of all judgeships in Connecticut, compared to 27.1 percent nationwide. The lower percentage for Connecticut reflects that the SUNY-Albany study included in its totals, among others, probate judges and magistrates who hear minor cases, such as those involving traffic infractions.
"In a perfect world, the bench should reflect the demographics" of the state's population, said Superior Court Judge Lynda Munro, who is chief administrative judge for the state's family courts and a leader in the push for gender equality among lawyers. "If you can't do that, the number of women [judges] should at least reflect the make-up of the bar. I think we have a way to go."
The SUNY-Albany study shows the number of women judges rising at about 1 percent per year nationally. "The good news is that there is movement, at least at the state level," said Dina Refki, director of the center that completed the study. "But the bad news is the rate of change is so slow."
Ficeto offers one explanation for the steady increase in women judges. "In the past, a lot of people on the judicial nominating commissions felt you had to be a trial attorney with experience in court doing a lot of trial work," Ficeto said. "I think litigation tends to be male-dominated, so given that background, it wasn't beneficial for women who did administrative law or real estate work when they applied for judicial selection."
More recently, there's been a shift away from an expectation that judges have litigation experience, said Ficeto, whose own legal experience ranges from a real estate practice with a private firm to handling utility transactional matters for the governor's office under M. Jodi Rell. "I certainly didn't have a lot of litigation experience," she said. "That shift has helped women attorneys seeking judgeships."