Attorney Joseph Geremia ()
Joseph Geremia has spent much of his 30 years as a lawyer representing children in some of the most harrowing circumstances imaginable. The bulk of his practice, the lion’s share of his day, is spent working as a court-appointed lawyer representing children who have been victimized.
His work is done largely out of the public view, filing motions or making arguments on behalf of children in court hearings that are non-public, because they involve the protection of juveniles.
“Most of what I do is in the child protection practice,” Geremia said. “For 30 years, I have concentrated my practice on protecting, advocating for and advancing justice for abused, neglected, forgotten and vulnerable children.”
Geremia works on a flat fee basis for the court-appointed work he does representing children. His pay often translates to hourly rates of $25 an hour, while private lawyers doing the same work can charge $225 an hour or more.
“In the technical sense, maybe it’s not pro bono,” Geremia said. “But it isn’t profitable either.”
For his decades-long work in the juvenile court in the Waterbury Judicial District, the Judicial Branch has chosen to honor Geremia for his “low bono” contributions. Geremia, who was nominated by Waterbury Administrative Judge William Cremins, is one of more than a dozen lawyers who will be recognized for their service at the Law Tribune’s Honors Night in June.
“By dedicating a significant part of his practice to advocacy as an attorney in the Waterbury Juvenile Court, attorney Geremia has committed himself to helping the most needy and least advantaged population that comes through the courthouse doors,” said Beth Duffy Burns, deputy chief clerk for juvenile matters in the Waterbury Judicial District.
Geremia represents abused and neglected children. He also represents parents accused of abuse and neglect who are in jeopardy of losing their children, a task made difficult because issues related to poverty and mental health often come into play. “This [type of represenation] is extraordinary, and it often goes unrecognized because of the confidential nature of the proceedings in the juvenile court,” said Burns.
‘Dignity And Respect’
Geremia graduated from the University of Bridgeport School of Law, which is now Quinnipiac University School of Law, in 1983. His first job was clerking for a Superior Court judge in Waterbury. Geremia then worked as an associate for a couple of years at a small law firm, before going out on his own in 1989.
“I had done all the work related to juvenile work and representing children at that law firm,” he said. “So when I went out on my own, that became my focus.”
The reason, he said, was he enjoyed helping people, both children and adults. “I even enjoyed representing parents who are charged with abuse, helping them get through the system with a measure of dignity and respect.”
He finds the work rewarding, “ethically and emotionally, if not financially.” However, Geremia does supplement his income by representing some parents in standard divorce cases and handling some post-judgment custody issues.
As for his low-bono work, Geremia provides court-appointed representations on behalf of indigent juveniles in a few different settings.
For example, he will appear in court on behalf of juveniles who have been arrested on criminal charges. He serves as a guardian ad litem in those instances where a parent isn’t involved in the child’s life, and the courts are called on to make a decision where the child should live. Geremia will make recommendations to judges as to where that should be.
But much of his work is representing the child victims in physical and sexual assault cases pending in criminal court. “It’s my passion in such confusing, stressful and challenging cases, that children have their voices heard and their rights protected,” Geremia said.
Another busy area of his practice involves representing children or adults on a court-appointed basis in Regional Children’s Probate Court. Launched in New Haven in 2004, and extended to Meriden, New London, Waterbury, Windham and Hartford, the regional courts bring judicial officials, child advocates, and state agencies together to ensure neglected or abandoned children are placed in stable home environments.
The childrens’ probate courts work to remove unfit parents as guardians, and in some cases, approve adoptions of children who have been removed from the home by the Department of Children and Families.
“If DCF files a petition for neglect, alleging minor children are being abused, I will be appointed to represent those children, and sometimes the respondent’s parents,” Geremia said. “If the parents are ordered to do something, for rehabilitation, and they fail to act, DCF may ask the court to have the parental rights terminated, and I will again get appointed for the respondent parents.”
Most of the time, he argues on behalf of “what’s best for the child.” In two current cases Geremia is handling, he is grappling with the question of whether children in unrelated cases should testify against his parents.
Sometimes, depending on the child, he will speak on their behalf in court, or read victim impact statements.
The legal work, Geremia said, “is much like any area of law…there is negotiation, trial practice, mediation.”
But for him, the stakes are higher. “Children deserve protection and support in the court system,” he said. “They need to have their voices heard, to have their rights advocated, to have justice fulfilled.”