Lawmakers express opposition to one of Lamont’s judicial nominees

The judicial nomination of Assistant State’s Attorney Devant J. Joiner hit a roadblock on Monday. The main issue was the accusation that the 54-year-old Black state prosecutor was excessively forceful when dealing with defendants, particularly minorities who had backgrounds similar to his own.

The Judiciary Committee of the legislature has voted 27-10 to oppose his confirmation as a judge of the Superior Court, marking a rare occurrence where nominees to the bench in Connecticut face such a hurdle. Joiner, when contacted via email, declined to provide any comment.

Joiner’s confirmation hearing on Friday showcased his ability to charm some lawmakers with his self-deprecating sense of humor and candid account of a challenging childhood in New Haven. He also shared his experiences of being homeless after high school. This unexpected turn of events marks a rapid reversal for Joiner.

Joiner shared his personal background, revealing that he comes from a humble upbringing. He explained that he grew up in New Haven’s public housing and was raised by a teenage single mother. Joiner also mentioned that he never had the opportunity to meet his father, who, according to what he was told, passed away while in prison. In addition, he opened up about the challenges his family faced when his mother unfortunately became addicted to drugs during his middle school and high school years.

The biography of Joiner was warmly received by the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont, who has been actively promoting diversity in gender, race, and professional background in his nominations to the state’s courts. Joiner was among the 22 nominees that were announced by the governor just 10 days ago for the 35 vacancies in the trial court.

During the confirmation hearing, there was no opposition to his nomination as no one testified against him. However, Rep. Craig Fishbein, the ranking House Republican on Judiciary, did raise questions about a case that was dropped by the state’s attorney after the defense claimed Joiner had shown “prosecutorial vindictiveness.”

During their conversation, Fishbein informed Joiner about a particular case that involved two defendants. The first defendant accepted a plea deal, while the second defendant, who expressed a desire to go to trial, suddenly found themselves facing more severe charges. At first, Joiner claimed not to remember any recent accusations of vindictiveness.

According to Fishbein, one person chooses to plead guilty to a lesser offense and pays a fine, while the other person decides to go to trial and faces more serious charges. In the latter case, a motion is filed claiming improper conduct, and the individual’s supervisor holds a meeting with them. Instead of addressing the motion to dismiss, the case is ultimately nolled.

Joiner hesitated for a moment before responding, “I’m trying to recall, but I believe it was nolled.”

The term “Nolle prosequi” is a legal phrase that indicates that the state has chosen not to pursue the prosecution of the case.

According to Joiner, the two defendants had additional distinctions beyond one agreeing to a plea deal and the other opting for a trial.

Members of the committee on Monday relied on communications from individuals who did not submit testimony.

Rep. Robyn Porter, a Democrat from New Haven, expressed concerns to the committee regarding Joiner. She shared that she had received complaints from clergy and other individuals regarding his conduct. Rep. Porter also mentioned that she had personally observed Joiner in courts in New Haven, where he had served as a prosecutor for 18 years. During the hearing, she directly addressed Joiner and questioned him about these complaints.

Porter, a member of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, emphasized the importance of taking those complaints seriously.

Porter raised concerns about the Black community’s objections to the nominee and questioned the significance of their voices being disregarded. She pondered whether their feelings, perceptions, and treatment are taken into consideration or simply ignored.

During the interview following the vote, Porter expressed that Joiner appeared particularly severe towards individuals who may have originated from the same neighborhoods in New Haven where Joiner himself grew up.

According to Porter, there are individuals who tend to lose sight of their humble beginnings and the challenges they faced along the way. These people develop a superiority complex and look down upon others.

Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, who co-chairs the committee, stated that the Lamont administration was notified over the weekend about Joiner’s potential difficulty in obtaining a favorable report. Despite this, Winfield acknowledged the administration’s decision not to withdraw the nomination, as there was no other record to consider apart from the case raised by Fishbein.

After the vote, Winfield expressed his thoughts, stating, “This one was quite challenging.”

During the weekend, Winfield received feedback from various members of the community, as well as judges and prosecutors, expressing doubts about Joiner’s judicial temperament. Winfield acknowledged the difficulty of addressing these concerns, especially since Joiner was unable to respond.

According to Winfield, simply dismissing something because it is not documented is not a viable option.

Winfield cast his vote against the confirmation.

Senator Patricia Billie Miller, a Democrat from Stamford and the leader of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, expressed her support for Joiner’s confirmation. She mentioned that no one had directly raised a complaint to her. Joining her in voting for confirmation were Representative Steven Stafstrom, a Democrat from Bridgeport and the committee’s co-chair, as well as Senator John Kissel, the ranking Republican member from Enfield.

Joiner, in his testimony on Friday, revealed that he had received an athletic scholarship to attend St. John’s University. However, he faced challenges with homelessness during his time there. After graduating, he found employment in different roles in New York City. Following his honorable discharge from the Marines, he pursued a law degree at Quinnipiac University School of Law.

As he contemplated the obstacles of moving beyond the distant past, he didn’t anticipate that his time as a state prosecutor, both in New Haven and more recently in New Britain, would become the cause of his troubles at the General Assembly.

“The challenges I faced during my upbringing made me question my potential and aspirations,” reflected Joiner. “These experiences instilled in me a profound understanding that our actions bear consequences. What’s more, these consequences can have lasting effects on our lives.”

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