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Preston Tisdale might have excelled in science or mathematics if it had not been for the civil rights movement of the 1960′s. Deeply affected by the goings on about him, Tisdale learned at an impressionable age how law could make a difference in peoples’ lives. “I saw so much positive change in the area of civil rights coming through the judicial system,” Tisdale said of the times. “The importance of a lawyer to the civil rights movement was paramount.” Now as the new Director of Special Public Defenders for Connecticut, Tisdale reflects on how his parents’ involvement in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People got him to take notice of the world around him at a time when some teenagers were doing less challenging things with their lives. “The civil rights movement turned my head away,” Tisdale said of his parents introducing him to the NAACP as a youth. “I thought law was the best vehicle to keeping a country true to its ideals.” Watching many of his African-American peers become actively involved in the civil rights movement, Tisdale followed their lead and became inspired by the works of such civil rights attorneys as Thurgood Marshall, who became a supreme court justice, and Paul Zuber, a national civil rights advocate. He knew from his youth that his future would be in the law, and after graduating from the former Notre Dame Boys High School in Bridgeport, Conn., Tisdale attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and later earned his law degree from New York University. His first job out of law school was an internship with the firm of Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder in Bridgeport. “He was terrific,” Attorney Richard A. Bieder said of Tisdale. “We’ve had a lot of really good [interns] but I’d have to say Preston was one of the best. He had a mature sense of humor and an incredible sense of elegance which we sorely needed in our office, quite frankly.” Bieder said when assigned a task as an intern Tisdale was “right on the mark” with his assignments, and seemed to have a gift for criminal defense work. “He didn’t have that doe-eyed look,” Bieder said, jokingly referring to other college interns. In 1981 Tisdale became a public defender working first in the New Haven, Conn., judicial district, then Bridgeport, and later in Fairfield, Conn.. He said that his experiences working in different districts in the state opened his eyes not only to the different characteristics of each geographical court, but also to the reality of the system. “Early on I realized that the judicial system cannot fix all of the ills of society,” Tisdale, now 48, said. He said that he once believed the judicial system was “more capable than it [actually is] in solving social ills. I learned the perimeters of the system.” Tisdale, a former Stratford, Conn., resident who now resides in Trumbull, Conn., with his wife and three daughters, talks about economics playing a key factor in how a generation once alive with hope has turned to despair. “I see in vivid terms how such matters can irrevocably alter the course of their lives,” Tisdale said of places such as Bridgeport, once a booming industrial mecca, and now the center of the bulk of the state’s public defender work. “There is a high degree of hopelessness,” Tisdale said, “particularly with the younger members of society.” But in the thousands of cases Tisdale has been involved with over the years, he still feels that he can make a difference in the lives of those around him by always striving to do the best job possible. “In our culture, payment equates to quality. And there is a misconception that because you receive a service for free it is not as good as a service you would pay for,” Tisdale said public defenders. “But the criminal justice system in Connecticut is first-rate. The public defender is as fine at indigent defense as it is anywhere throughout the country.” Appointed last year to the newly created position of Director of Special Public Defenders as a result of Rivera vs. Rowland, Tisdale began his new job this year and acknowledges the work ahead of him. “I’ve got a big task that will take all of my resources, creativity and skills to make this position live up to its mandate,” Tisdale said.

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