The troubling case of Judge Emons

The failure of the state House of Representatives to act on the reappointment of Superior Court Judge Jane B. Emons sends a chilling message to other judges who, like her, are assigned the difficult challenge of presiding in family court.

In no other area of the judicial system are more raw emotions played out and enemies made. It is personal. Typical cases include divorce, child custody, child support, protection from abuse (temporary restraining orders), child abuse, neglect, and termination of parental rights.

Critics of the system say it enriches family-practice lawyers and disenfranchises those who cannot afford quality— or any — legal representation. Those who feel betrayed by the system and its judges have effectively used social media to share their feelings of persecution and organize attacks.

Appointed eight years ago by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, and named for reappointment after her eight-year term by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Emons confronted this criticism when testifying to the Judiciary Committee last February. Emons faced questions about her demeanor, about being abrupt and not showing proper respect to all those appearing in her court, particularly those without legal representation.

“There have been a couple of situations; no doubt, when I’m sure I did cross the line. I felt that it was important to maintain the decorum and order in the courtroom. Upon retrospect, I’m sure I could have done it differently,” Emons, 67, said during her testimony.

The Judiciary Committee endorsed her confirmation and reappointment by a vote of 30-3.

But the campaign against Emons continued, particularly from the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, which heard complaints that minorities in particular faced unfair treatment in Emons' court.

The House took the cowardly course. It did nothing. When the session adjourned on May 4, the House had not acted on Judge Emons’ nomination, meaning she is no longer a judge. Stripping a judge of her position without a vote may have been a first for the state.

Emons deserved a vote. And unless the allegations of malfeasance were confirmed and found to be disqualifying, she deserved reappointment.

Other judges assigned to family court must be feeling vulnerable about now. Who will next face attacks in social media for decisions that offend one party or another, or because someone considers their courtroom performance inappropriate? Will they too face the prospects of a campaign to block their future reappointment?

One more factor has made this episode particularly ugly. Emons, who is Jewish, faced anti-Semitic attacks on social media that tried to tie her decisions to her heritage. She had been called in her home and yelled at. These unacceptable attacks provided more reason for the House to step up and decide the nomination on the merits. Quietly walking away from the matter can only embolden those who see their anti-Semitic tactics as successful.

Granted, we don’t know all the facts. Emons herself admitted there were times she should have acted differently. Perhaps a credible case could have been made against her reappointment. But that’s not what happened. Instead, a whisper campaign effectively killed a judge’s nomination. The Senate, which appeared ready to confirm if the House passed the nomination forward, had no ability to act.

The process failed.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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