“Super-lawyer” William H. Clendenen Jr. has taken on a series of heavy-duty cases ranging from sex-trafficking to the poor’s right to counsel—not in the courtroom, but as head of the Connecticut Bar Association.
Clendenen said the reason he agreed to become the CBA’s 92nd president this year is because of his belief in “access to justice for all.” He said the court system in Connecticut has long been divided into a system for the well-to-do and a system for the poor.
Clendenen, the founder and managing partner of Clendenen & Shea in New Haven, is a longtime litigator and “super-lawyer” (according to Connecticut Magazine) who practices in the state and federal courts. In an interview on WNHH radio’s “Legal Eagle” program, Clendenen discussed a number of incentives the CBA has undertaken this year.
Sex trafficking in Connecticut is a big issue, he said. “Young boys and girls are prostituted. They are captured, often at bus stations. Sometimes they are runaways. Sometimes families send them into trafficking, we have found. We are working on pardons for these girls and boys as one way to give them a new beginning. We are also working with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal on a national initiative.”
A Need For Court-Appointed Attorneys in Civil Cases
One of his priorities in the upcoming legislative session is to seek funding for court-appointed attorneys in civil cases. Right now this right does not exist for the poor on the civil level, though it does on the criminal level.
Clendenden has conferred with Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase Rogers. In a recent interview with the Connecticut Law Tribune, Rogers said, “The question of whether litigants in noncriminal matters should have court-appointed attorneys paid for by the state is an issue we need to confront. I am well aware that Connecticut’s superb legal services community has assisted many individuals. However, the demand far outweighs the supply.”
He said a case that crystalized the need for a lawyer in the courtroom took place some months ago after a father named Tony Moreno, now charged with murder, jumped off the Arrigoni Bridge in Middletown, his 7-month-old son in his arms. He survived. His son did not.
“When the child’s mother, Adrianne Oyola, went to court seeking an order of protection, she did not have a lawyer at her side. She tried to explain why she needed protection, but she couldn’t explain it in a way that would provide her with the help she needed,” Clendenen said. She received a temporary order but not a permanent one.
“The bar association and others have pro bono programs in courts but not in the Middletown court where her case was heard.”
Young Leaders Emerging
Clendenen said he believes in giving diverse groups, be it by age or race, a seat at the table. He is making a point of giving young lawyers leadership roles and, he said, seeking to make the 10,000-member bar association more diverse and inclusive.
Typically bar associations are run by committees and sections. Since March, the bar association has brought in younger lawyers to help lead some of the committees, a number of which “had calcified in their leadership,” Clendenen said.
“So we adopted a new policy in March. We realized that many younger people, more diverse people didn’t feel welcome. Who knows the reason? What was it? Was it racism? It may be,” he said, or maybe not. Some lawyers told him ‘Connecticut is just provincial.’ Whatever the reason, the bar’s leadership has shifted gears and is now appointing young and diverse attorneys as co-chairmen of various bar committees.
“The excitement. The energy. Oh, my goodness,” he said.
In addition seven young lawyers have been selected as presidential fellows. “You have to apply for that. We are training them to become leaders. We are teaching them about decision making. How a captain on ship makes decisions. Who do you listen to? Who don’t you listen to?” he asked.
“Typically the bar association doesn’t train for this role. So we decided to train them. We are hoping this will spill over into communities they live and work in. We are all excited about this program.”
Click on or download the above sound file to hear the full interview.