Connecticut Superior Court judges need to be reconfirmed by the General Assembly every eight years. How the General Assembly dealt with the renomination—or better yet, denomination—of Judge Jane Emons was not a profile in courage, but a profile in cowardice.
Emons was approved for reappointment by an overwhelming majority of the Connecticut Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Her reappointment should have been routine. But it never came up for a vote before the General Assembly. As a result, her decadeslong tenure as a Judge, assistant attorney general, and assistant state’s attorney came to end on May 4. It came to an end without a voice raised or a vote taken. It came to an end as the result of inaction by a dysfunctional Legislature.
Emons served with integrity and distinction for years. As a government lawyer, she ably represented the people of Connecticut without a blemish on her stellar reputation as a fair and firm advocate. Her path to May 4’s abusive inaction began when she was assigned as a Judge to Family Court. It is widely believed that a family assignment in Connecticut is the most dangerous to a judge’s career and well-being. Emons was stalked. She was ranted about on anonymous blogs. She was the subject of an I-91 billboard.
The legislators were aware that one or more of her protesters had made anti-Semitic remarks against Emons. She, in fact, testified eloquently before the Judiciary Committee about such anti-Semitic blogs or posts, stating “I am saddened by those attacks, but am confident they will not interfere with the important work you are doing here today.” Only one of the members of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. John Kissel, the co-chairman, took the protesters to task for those remarks. The others just sat back and were silent, likely in fear that if they said anything against the protesters or in favor of Emons, they would draw the attention of those rabid protesters.
Citizens have free speech rights. But when they cross the line to the types of attacks Emons was subjected to as part her reappointment process, the Legislature should show some moral courage in directly taking on such heinous attacks. They didn’t do that. They sat quietly by and took no vote when a disgruntled small mob came for Emons. The same groups have come for others involved in child guardianship matters. They have been allowed to do so with impunity. This was an opportunity for the General Assembly to stand up to these bullies.
One of the legislators leading the opposition to Emons said she had many complaints. In truth, Connecticut’s Judicial Review Council Findings After Public Hearing reveal no disciplinary action against Emons. Family judges who do their jobs are most susceptible to attack from angry litigants. The emotions involved in disputes over child custody and marital status run high and result in litigants who go so far as to stalk a judge and use ethnic slurs.
Every legislator should have spoken out against the anti-Semitic comments. It is ironic that it probably was the Black and Hispanic Caucuses who blocked a vote in Emons’ case. In particular, the minority caucus should have spoken up. Yes, the hate speech in question was anti-Semitic. How far is such speech, however, from racist speech?
Had racist speech been directed at a judge up for reconfirmation, would the minority caucus have allowed the reconfirmation to die without going to the floor to denounce such hate speech? We think not. A further irony is that one of the blogs directed against Emons had racist comments. It is concerning that they did nothing to stop the blatant anti-Semitism. In fact, the Legislature’s lack of action has tacitly approved and enabled such viciousness. Kudos to the minority bar associations—the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association, the George Crawford Bar Association, the Connecticut Asian Pacific Bar Association, and the South Asian Bar Association—for condemning these racist and anti-Semitic attacks.
That the General Assembly failed to give an up-or-down vote on Emons’ reconfirmation was also an act of cowardice and belied core democratic principles. Emons and the public had a right to know why the General Assembly was not going to reconfirm her and what the legislators thought about her reconfirmation. There was no debate or discussion. Scores of judges, including the chief court administrator, pleaded with leaders in the Legislature to call a vote on Emons. These pleas fell on deaf ears. A judgeship should not be allowed to end without the General Assembly’s input. The General Assembly’s job is to debate issues and to make decisions in public so that they can be held accountable to the electorate.
We look to our leaders to stand up for right and to show courage. The General Assembly let us down on this one. Up or down, they should have voted. The General Assembly ducked this issue. Democracy has taken a hit. And sadly so too has Emons.