There were times in 2012 when it seemed like Timothy S. Fisher was involved in just about every issue of importance to the Connecticut judicial system. From chairing a committee on judges’ salaries to authoring an amicus brief that challenged the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, the McCarter & English partner had a busy year.
Perhaps most notable is his work with the once low-profile Connecticut Bar Foundation, which has been in existence for over half a century and since the 1980′s raised money for legal aid agencies that provide services for low-income clients. This year, as president, Fisher pushed the organization in several new directions.
“It’s often the most meaningful part of my day,” Fisher said, referring to his multi-faceted volunteer work. Although humble, he joked, “My friends are getting very sick of this,” referring to the amount of times his name has appeared in the news.
Fisher spends many of his days representing companies and municipalities involved in large construction projects. But his interest in helping to broaden access to the courts and addressing what he considers to be issues of justice and fairness developed several years ago. In 1997, Fisher was named to the board of directors for Greater Hartford Legal Aid.
Six years later, when Fisher stepped down from GHLA, he became involved with the Connecticut Bar Foundation, which this year helped launched the Connecticut Innocence Fund. The collaborative effort between the foundation and Connecticut Innocence Project is designed to provide loans to exonerated inmates who need a financial boost until they can land a job.
So far, the fund has raised $50,000 and the foundation has created a web site seeking additional donors.
“Every organization in legal services needs someone like Tim Fisher,” Karen Goodrow, the executive director of the Connecticut Innocence Project said. “He’s a person who says, ‘this is worth it,’ and jumps in to help.”
Under Fisher’s lead, the bar foundation also organized a symposium event in honor of U.S. District Judge Mark R. Kravitz, who passed away in September after a long battle with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The December event, on “The Vanishing Trial,” featured 16 speakers, including nationally famous legal scholars, top court officials, and leading figures from Connecticut’s trial bar.
The bar foundation plans to hold a similar event ever year. Toward that end, Fisher said the group is establishing an endowment fund for future symposia, and have created a fund-raising committee that will ask law firms for donations. “The Kravitz family identified [the endowment] as one of the two charitable giving options in the obituary for Judge Kravitz at his memorial service,” Fisher said.
Fisher, who lives in West Hartford, is married to Dina S. Fisher, a partner at Robinson & Cole.
Both of Fisher’s grandfathers were professors at Wesleyan University, which helped stir in him an intellectual curiosity in social justice. He earned his undergraduate degree in economics at Yale, and then graduated from Columbia Law School. His first job as a lawyer was at Robinson & Cole, where he made partner and worked for 16 years. He then worked as a partner at Murphy, Laudati & Kiel from 1994 to 1997, before joining Cummings & Lockwood. He’s been with McCarter & English since 2003.
In addition to the bar foundation work, Fisher had a good year in his practice, winning an important court decision on behalf of the University of Connecticut School of Law. In November, a unanimous Connecticut Supreme Court held that the state of Connecticut is not bound by statutes of limitations when it wants to sue for damages years after an event occurs. That was good news for Fisher’s client, the state, which filed a $22 million lawsuit against contractors for shoddy construction of the law school library, which was completed in 1996. The ruling will allow the state’s lawsuit against the contractors to proceed.
Fisher also kept busy helping to address what he considers to be important social issues. He found time in 2012 to work on a brief in support of equal rights for same sex couples on behalf of the Connecticut Bar Association.
The amicus brief was filed in a New York case of United States v. Windsor, which is one of several cases that challenge the Defense of Marriage Act. Windsor is now being prepared for argument before the Supreme Court. Fisher explained that Brian Rice, a former partner at McCarter who is active in gay rights issues, had encouraged him and others at McCarter a few years earlier to get involved in the Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health case, which successfully argued that same-sex couples have the right to marry under the Connecticut constitution.
The firm filed an amicus brief in Kerrigan, and its support continued with the DOMA cases. “It was really important for our firm,” Fisher said.
Both Rice and Fisher have been credited publicly by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for their legal work in favor of ensuring that same-sex married couples are recognized for social security and other benefits by the federal government. “I think we were the first major firm in CT to sign on to support that effort,” Fisher said, referring to the constitutional issues raised in both cases.
Fisher was also in the past year named to be chair of the Connecticut Commission on Judicial Compensation, which recently recommended a plan to increase pay for state judges by 5.3 percent for each of the next four fiscal years.
Fisher was careful in describing his role on that commission, not giving away his own thoughts on the topic. “Some commissioners thought our recommendation should be higher and there were others who thought they should be lower,” he said. “But all of us were comfortable with the final numbers we submitted with our report.
Asked about his involvement in so many voluntary efforts in so many different directions, Fisher said he sees giving back as part of his obligation as an attorney.
“One becomes a lawyer partly because you believe in the law as a way to keep society safe and functioning,” Fisher said. For him, doing everything one can to promote “the values of our profession” is a way to accomplish that goal.•