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For the first time in its 86-year history, the Connecticut public defender’s office is boasting a predominately female workforce. “It may be, frankly, a credit to the public defender system … that they have earned this wonderful reputation. … Maybe women are seeing this is a place where they too can have a good career,” said state Supreme Court Justice Joette Katz, a former public defender who served as chief of legal services for the division in the 1980s. According to Chief Public Defender Gerard Smyth, 57 percent of his workforce is made up of women, with 42 percent of the female staff employed as attorneys. In addition, he said, 63 percent of the executives and administrators working in the Division of Public Defender Services are also female. Smyth said the figures are a reflection of not only the Public Defender Services Commission’s efforts to advance women within the profession, but also due to a larger showing of experienced and qualified female attorneys working in the division and the criminal defense bar in general. He added that a higher number of women are applying for jobs as public defenders than in previous years. Such an increase in applicants may be due to obvious factors such as more women choosing to attend law school, Katz acknowledged. But she quickly added that the higher numbers and the rise in promotions for women in the division could also be attributed to Smyth and Deputy Chief Public Defender Susan Storey. Recent early retirement incentives left many open slots in the division, including two top administrative positions in Hartford and Tolland. In July, Karen Goodrow was promoted to head the Tolland Judicial District, replacing Phillip Armentano, who retired. More recently, in late October, Sara Bernstein became the top public defender for the Hartford Judicial District, replacing Fred DeCaprio, who transferred to the division’s Capital Defense Unit. The promotions of Goodrow and Bernstein mean that three female public defenders now head up judicial districts in the state. Susan Hankins has been the Public Defender for the Stamford/Norwalk Judicial District since 1999. Hankins said she could name the women attorneys in the division on one hand when she started volunteering for the division while in law school in the mid-1970s. She said the division seemed to lend itself to a more “gender-neutral environment” than some private law firms by giving women a chance to litigate in an area still largely dominated by men.

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