Francis M. Donnarumma, the president of the recently revived Connecticut Italian-American Bar Association, says that while each ethnic group is different, each has struggled in similar ways. “Clearly there is a wide history of discrimination as each ethnic group made it,” Donnarumma said.
There was a time when members of large ethnic groups, including people of Italian heritage, wouldn’t get hired at certain firms, he said.
“There were challenges.”
Although that era is “a day gone by,” he would like to explore the topic with members of other “affinity organizations” through a future symposium at the CIABA, which started meeting again in May after being dormant for several years.
The organization was formed by Superior Court Judge Richard Marano back in 1992. It was active for about 8 years, but fell into a long period of inactivity, where there were no formal meetings.
Donnarumma, who runs his own general practice law firm in Woodbury said that Marano reached out to him about re-activating the organization. “He was sorry more wasn’t done to expand it,” Donnarumma said. At their first meeting, the group elected officers and directors.
Part of the goal, Donnaraumma said, is to “meet and greet” with other lawyers at a time when e-filing has reduced the opportunities for socializing in courthouses. Members of his group are interested in discussing the challenges of overcoming discrimination with members of all other affinity organizations.
“We all have the same stories ultimately,” said Donnarumma, who is 100 percent Italian.
Ethnic groups emigrated to America. Many were rejected at first, but they overcame it through hard work and achievement, Donnarumma said.
“Every group is about celebrating of the ethnicity,” he said.
Donnarumma said that while the Italian bar association wants to “celebrate that unique characteristic” of their ethnicity, all lawyers are welcome to attend the events. Also, scholarships will be given out to anyone, and not necessarily to an Italian American.
The group’s next event is in September in New Haven.
It will feature a federal judge of Italian heritage as speaker as well as an Italian American litigator who had a significant outcome in a court case.
“It’s a nice environment for mentoring. It’s ideal for mentoring,” Donnarumma said.
Rebecca Paolino, the treasurer of the group, called the group “not exclusive, it’s inclusive.”
“The intention is to be a philanthropic organization,” Paolino, a criminal defense lawyer, who works at Gerace and Associates in Hartford, said.
Paolino, whose father is from the Naples area and whose mother is from Tuscany, is proficient in Italian. Her father is an Italian teacher in Waterbury, so that helped, she said.
The organization also intends to give scholarships to law students and to help One L’s pay for the bar exam and for bar study classes, Paolino said.
Their aim is also to help out lawyers working in the public interest area of law – like public defenders or for legal aide – who may be having trouble paying off their loans, she said.
And mentoring, of course, is something that Paolino and Donnarumma expect to be a big benefit of the group.
“There aren’t always opportunities for brand new lawyers to … have a safe place where they can ask a question about the practice of law,” Paolino said.
“As Italians, there’s that cultural bond, we love to gather around the table and share stories,” Paolino said.
Paolino, who is 75 percent Italian, said that there are other “affinity” bars that had good results.
“We’re still growing and talking about what we want to put out,” Paolino said.
In the future, they hope to collaborate with other bar associations, she said, including other “affinity” associations that recognize the heritage of their members.
Other affinity bar associations include The Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association, The South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut, The George W. Crawford Black Bar Association, and The Connecticut Asian Pacific Bar Association.
For information on becoming a member or about CIABA, contact Attorney Donnarumma at email@example.com.•