Editor’s note: This profile of Superior Court Judge James Abrams is the eighth in a series of interviews with judges and recently retired jurists.
While many future attorneys graduate law school at about age 25, James Abrams had other thoughts.
The son of a graphic artist and librarian, Abrams’ parents never pushed him into any profession. They only encouraged him to do what he wanted. And, early on, Abrams said, that entailed being a stage actor.
Abrams took up acting at Hamden High School and then again at Trinity College in Hartford. He joined the National Theater Institute in Waterford in 1977 and after graduating Trinity in 1978, headed west to try acting in Seattle. His biggest role was playing Dr. Watson in a “Sherlock Holmes” play.
“I enjoyed it, but I was not good enough,” Abrams lamented.
Still not envisioning being a lawyer, Abrams entered the world of special education, where he worked from 1980-1987 in several New Haven-based residential facilities. It’s also where he met his wife Mary Abrams.
After pondering what his next step would be, James Abrams, who said he was “always intrigued by the law,” decided to take night courses at the University of Connecticut School of Law, where he graduated with honors at age 32.
Abrams was an attorney from 1988-2006, most of that time as a solo practitioner with a concentration on civil litigation, probate, commercial law and real estate. He also served from 1995-2005 as a Democrat in the State Legislature representing Meriden and surrounding areas.
It was the role of a lifetime in 2007 when then Gov. Jodi Rell appointed Abrams Superior Court judge. While he enjoyed his time as an attorney, the 62-year-old Meriden resident said he is better equipped to be a judge.
“I think I am more suited, personally, to be a judge than a lawyer,” Abrams told the Connecticut Law Tribune on Tuesday. “As a lawyer, I was always looking to resolve a case at the earliest possible juncture and to the least cost to my client. I was solution-oriented, not adversarial. Some people want lawyers who are very adversarial, and that is just not my style.”
Coming to an agreement and settling cases is what Abrams most likes about being a judge. For the last six years—two spent in New Britain and four in New Haven—Abrams has enjoyed his role as presiding judge for civil matters. Although he spent some time in the courtroom, he was largely settling disputes and cases.
“I found the work rewarding,” Abrams said. “Settling cases is a tangible result. I go into work and, if I settle three cases that day, on the way home I say to myself, ‘I’ve done my job. I’m lucky to have a job where you can have tangible results. It’s not every day, but it is a lot of days.”
While many of the cases he presided over dealt with collections and foreclosures, 75 percent of them were personal-injury related. “The ones where my mediation skills came into play were the personal injury ones,” he said. “Most of those cases settled before they got to verdict.”
Abrams became chief administrative judge for civil matters statewide in November and he added a new job title on Sept. 4. He became administrative judge for the New Haven judicial district. That means Abrams will be back in the courtroom on a fairly regular basis. It is where he excels, many who know and have worked with Abrams say.
“He is a fantastic judge because he knows how to balance levity with seriousness,” said Angela Robinson, a former Superior Court judge and current attorney for Wiggin and Dana.
Robinson, who has known Abrams for about 10 years and was his immediate predecessor as administrative judge, added, “I think being in the Legislature gives him a better understanding of the policies behind the law, in addition to just the words of the law.”
Abrams is vice chairperson of the Judicial Law Library Advisory Committee and co-facilitator of sexual harassment and diversity programs for newly appointed judges. He and his wife have been married 33 years. They have two children and one granddaughter.