Known for his easy temperament and asking pointed questions during oral arguments, state Supreme Court Justice Richard Robinson has been elevated to the state’s chief justice.
The no-nonsense jurist, who is known for being approachable and active in recruiting people of color into the legal profession, became the state’s first black chief justice when the state Senate approved his nomination 36-0 Thursday. The vote followed an earlier 146-0 tally in the state House of Representatives.
Robinson’s confirmation came after Republicans and Democrats had a contentious battle over Associate Justice Andrew McDonald’s bid to become the country’s first openly gay chief justice.
Robinson voted with the majority in the court’s 5-2 ruling in 2015 finding the death penalty violated the state constitution. He also was part of the unanimous 2017 ruling rebuking the state Department of Children and Families policy to vaccinate children in its custody without parental consent.
Robinson’s promotion was met with pride from black attorneys throughout the state, who called his pick inspirational and overdue.
Meet the New Chief Justice
Robinson, a Stamford native, was appointed as a judge of the Connecticut Appellate Court in 2007 and elevated to the state Supreme Court in December 2013.
Robinson, 60, served as staff counsel for the Stamford Law Department from 1985-1988, according to his biography. He became assistant corporation counsel for Stamford in 1988, a position he held until he was named a Superior Court judge in 2000. Robinson served as the presiding civil judge for the New Britain and Stamford judicial districts, and presiding civil judge and assistant administrative judge for the Ansonia/Milford Judicial District.
Robinson’s career points to an array of public and judicial service. That includes serving as president of the Stamford branch of the NAACP, and chairman of the Advisory Committee on Cultural Competency. He’s also sat on the association’s diversity committee for the past three years.
Robinson graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut in 1979 and received a law degree from West Virginia University School of Law in 1984.
A Sense of Pride
West Hartford attorney Garlinck Dumont, president of the George Crawford Black Bar Association, attended the House of Representatives’ hearings on judicial nominations last week as a show of support from the association. Dumont said she swelled with pride watching her friend of five years address the House.
Dumont said Robinson’s role in the community makes him stand out.
“He is not only well-spoken and the most humble individual you’d ever want to meet, but he also plays an active role in trying to encourage people of color to be law students, attorneys and judges,” she said.
“He is dedicated to his profession and also mentors other attorneys and judges,” Dumont added.
“As a fellow Stamford native and University of Connecticut Husky, I’m bursting with pride and am confident that Chief Justice Robinson will serve with distinction and integrity in a fair and impartial manner as he has already been doing,” Jean said. “His appointment is very important for me to see as a young attorney of color, for our great state of Connecticut, and for the profession at large.”
Robinson’s Judicial Style
Anyone appearing before Robinson better be prepared for rapid-fire questions. That’s according to attorney Wesley Horton, who has argued about 130 times in front of the court, including about 10 times in front of Robinson.
“He is thoughtful in his questions and his decisions are clear and precise,” said Horton, a partner with Horton Dowd Bartschi & Levesque. “He does not go out of his way to make it look like a moot court. He does not ask questions for the sake of asking questions. His questions are likely to determine which way the case is going.”
Specifically, Horton said, “you have to be very persuasive with him. He will go over line-by-line the statute in question, or contract in question, or whatever is in question. He wants you to support your position.”
Steven Stafstrom Jr. has a unique perspective on Robinson as an attorney and a member of the Statehouse representing Bridgeport.
Stafstrom, an associate with Pullman & Comley, said that as a member of the joint House and Senate Judiciary Committee, he found Robinson fit the bill of what was needed in a chief justice.
“First and foremost, we look for people that are legally competent and experienced,” Stafstrom said. “Beyond that, we look to judicial temperament and a deep experience in judicial affairs. Given his background, he certainly met all of the criteria.”
Robinson also has the respect of his colleagues, Stafstrom said.
“The people I know are saying it’s a great choice. He is a well-respected and tempered jurist,” Stafstrom said.