HARTFORD — The General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the renomination of a Meriden man as a state referee, but not without harsh criticism from some lawmakers about his tenure as a family court judge.
Gerard I. Adelman’s nomination easily passed each chamber — 25-7 in the Senate, 117-28 in the House — but opponents said the legislature needs to do more to protect litigants who feel aggrieved by the family court. Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, even called him a “horrible” and “terrible, terrible judge,” prompting members of Meriden’s legislative contingent to defend Adelman, citing his work as a judge and public service prior to his 2009 appointment.
“Yes, this is a tough individual, but this is an individual who is fair and consistent,” said Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden. Several lawmakers also commended Adelman for volunteering to take on lengthier family cases in Hartford, which Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, said are “some of the most difficult and contentious cases.”
Meriden resident Corrine L. Klatt’s reappointment was also approved Wednesday, garnering a 129-16 vote in the House and unanimously approval in the Senate. Lawmakers offered little criticism of Klatt, who was also first appointed in 2009 and presides in Meriden Superior Court, before approving her second term.
Adelman’s nomination as a state referee — judges must retire at age of 70 under state law, but can continue serve in restricted roles with smaller caseloads — was one of several that sparked concerns about family court. Critics in both chambers said the legislature needs to be more attentive to the complaints of litigants in family matters, and identified Adelman as being among the judges to draw the most, and harshest complaints.
They also raised concerns about his courtroom management and demeanor. Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, referenced Adelman’s comments during testimony before a legislative committee that someone’s ability to follow accepted decorum is a factor when considering whether he thinks a litigant will follow court orders.
Coleman, who is black, said judges should also be understanding when people of certain social classes are leery, based on history, that courts or other institutions will impose just decisions.
Gonzalez, meanwhile, characterized Adelman as a harsh and ill-tempered judge, saying she has sat in his courtroom multiple times. Her criticism also prompted others to urge fellow lawmakers to send a statement to judges.
“If we don’t stand up to one judge in this chamber, I think we’re sending the wrong message that this whole reappointment process is just a rubber stamp,” said Rep. Edwin Vargas.
The criticism elicited a show of strong support from others, including Meriden legislators, members of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, and attorneys who have dealt with Adelman. Along with Abercrombie, Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, and Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, came to Adelman’s defense, describing him as fair minded and a devoted public servant, going back to his time as a member of the city’s school board in the 1990s.
Santiago also defended Adelman’s record, commending him for volunteering to take cases that can be emotional. Judges often try to avoid assignments to family court, but Adelman, as a state referee, sought one.
“You’re not going to make everybody happy, and judges have to make those rulings each and every day,” she said.
Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, a lawyer who predominantly handles family cases, also characterized Adelman as being fair-minded in matters that can be volatile. He said one of his first cases involved a contentious family dispute, but Adelman was “the rudder in the whole case.”
The debate prompted Tong, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to also defended the entire judicial nomination process, saying applicants must go through multiple screenings before reaching chamber floors for votes. Additionally, he said lawmakers should consider whether judges act appropriately and make decisions within the confines of the law and not whether they agree with specific rulings, as the Judicial Branch is equal to the General Assembly under the state’s constitution.