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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    Waterford’s new juvenile prosecutor where she was ‘meant to be’

    Tashia Sowell is the new deputy assistant state's attorney in the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters at Waterford. (Submitted photo)

    Waterford ― Glastonbury native Tashia Sowell can trace her love of the law to at least the age of 5, around the time she first started talking about becoming a judge.

    Just ask her parents, Sowell said, who used to take her on personal field trips to the courthouse to watch court proceedings at a young age.

    “I’ve known what I wanted to do forever. And my parents know if I say I want to do it, I’m going to do it,” Sowell said with a smile, seated in her new office at the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters in Waterford.

    Sowell, 28, started her new job as deputy assistant state’s attorney on Feb. 23, overseeing cases at a courthouse where all of the defendants are under the age of 18 and prosecution of those cases tend to be more nuanced then in the adult court. The state maintains 11 juvenile courts statewide. The court in Waterford covers the 21 towns in New London County.

    The juvenile court is where Sowell said she is meant to be and a place where she said she thinks justice must be balanced with empathy and compassion.

    Sowell’s passion for juvenile criminal matters dates back to her time at law school at the University of Arkansas, where she had a chance to work in the juvenile division of the criminal court.

    “That clerkship showed me the path I wanted to take in my legal career,” Sowell said. “While I took much pride in being able to be a voice for my community by helping right the wrongs children made to society and others, I was most proud of being a part of a court system that did not punish children for, in most cases, being children.”

    Sowell said she also gets satisfaction in helping youth gain access to “path-altering resources” as a way to deter them from becoming further involved in the criminal justice system. Part of the focus of the juvenile court system is addressing why a child committed a crime and how to prevent the child from committing another crime, she said.

    Sowell graduated from law school in 2022, and prior to coming back to Connecticut had moved to New York City to take a job as corporation counsel for the New York City Law Department, where she worked with youth in the family court.

    Sowell was hired by the state’s Criminal Justice Commission, a group composed of the chief state’s attorney and six members appointed by the General Assembly, two of whom are superior court judges.

    New London County State’s attorney Paul Narducci, on a panel that interviewed Sowell, said Sowell fills a vacancy in the juvenile court left with the retirement of Lonnie Braxton in 2021. The job has been covered by Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Fran Reese, who has been splitting her time between the juvenile courts in Waterford and Willimantic, and who, Narducci said, has been invaluable to the smooth operation of the courthouses.

    Narducci said it was important to have an attorney like Sowell who is not only well-versed in juvenile law but understands the variables at play ― such as family dynamics and age, and had the ability to listen and be empathetic.

    Sowell was initially hired for a position as special deputy assistant state’s attorney position in Hartford. When she was made aware of the opening in the juvenile court she said applying was a “no brainer.”

    Sowell’s road to becoming a lawyer has not come without obstacles.

    After a series of seizures in high school, Sowell said doctors discovered what was diagnosed as an inoperable brain tumor. Under some circumstances, the tumor might have left her blind, paralyzed or even dead. Sowell underwent a risky surgery at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute while still a young teen to have the tumor removed. The surgery was a success but it left her partially paralyzed on her right side and among other things forced her to learn to write with her left hand.

    It’s taken countless hours of physical therapy, Sowell said, to work through physical limitations. The surgery also left her with some problems that lingered through her law school years. She struggled with seizures and sleep comas that led to missed exams and the possibility of never graduating.

    She kept the faith and graduated in 2022.

    In Waterford, Sowell said she’s been welcomed with open arms among colleagues who have been supportive and “showing me the ropes and helping me get well adjusted to the juvenile practice in Connecticut.”

    “I am proud to become a part of the incredible team here,” Sowell said.

    g.smith@theday.com

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