It’s always been her dream to hold the title!
Connecticut has named its first Black Chief Public Defender in the 100-year-old history of the system, CTNewsJunkie reports.
TaShun Bowden-Lewis is a native of Norwalk, Connecticut who got her career start as an assistant law clerk. She holds degrees from Georgetown University and Quinnipiac University School of Law, going on to serve as an assistant public defender and then public defender for New Haven’s Superior Court before serving in the Waterbury Judicial District for 15 years. In 2016, she was promoted to acting public defender, and then in 2018, she became the permanent public defender for the entire district of Waterbury. Now Bowden-Lewis has been named as Chief Public Defender of Connecticut, making history as the first Black person to hold the title in the century-old history of the system. For Bowden-Lewis, it’s a dream she’s been pursuing since she was a child.
“I always wanted to be a public defender. My whole career has been serving this division and serving clients throughout Connecticut,” she told reporters.
According to the state’s Judicial Branch, Connecticut was the first state in the Union to adopt a public defender system on a statewide basis more than a hundred years ago in 1917. Bowden-Lewis is Connecticut’s sixth Chief Public Defender and the first person of color to ever hold the role. Throughout her 25-year career, she’s become known for her expertise as a trial attorney. In her new role, she will manage the state’s Department of Public Defender Services (DPDS) operations, represent the division internally and externally with the public, and oversee the state’s more than 400 public defenders.
Currently, Connecticut sees “more than 100,000 criminal, child protection, delinquency defense, and family support cases each year,” according to Bowden-Lewis. She plans to bring her veteran experience to the job with an increased focus on recruitment, retention, diversity, community engagement, and rebranding of the office. The new Chief said she’s excited to step into the new historic appointment and represent the state’s most underserved populations.
“I’m proud to be Black and proud to be female. The saying that representation matters is not a cliché. It is something real…I was very fortunate to get this opportunity to be the new Chief Public Defender. It has been an honor to be able to help my clients. The majority of clients in this system are Black or brown. To be able to advocate for men and women of all races is a privilege for me. It makes me proud to be able to help,” said Bowden-Lewis.
Dr. Isabel Logan, an assistant professor in social work at Eastern Connecticut State University, who met Bowden-Lewis in 1996 and worked with her in New Haven’s court for 20 years said the new Chief is primed for the role and is everything a public defender should be, remarking how the appointment brought her to tears.
“She’s going to be fantastic. She’s a hard worker. She is fair and she is a true example of what a public defender should be. She’s going to give it her all because that’s who she is…Not only is she going to bring the Division to the next level but I think it is going to be transformational…I’m so excited to see the first African American Chief Public Defender and to be able to say that she is my friend. It brought tears to my eyes - I cried with excitement to see that she got appointed to this position. This is just what we need,” said Dr. Logan.
Bowden-Lewis said she hopes to inspire the next generation behind her to walk through the doors she’s opened.
“I am thrilled to be in this position. I don’t take it lightly. Hopefully those coming after me in this position will be inspired, that with hard work, integrity, perseverance - they can do it, too,” she said.
Photo Courtesy of Mary Milewski/CTNewsJunkie