HARTFORD — Two retired jurists, including the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, have teamed up to raise money to help expand free legal services to immigrant children and families in Connecticut.
They warn there's a growing and unmet demand for legal representation. It comes amid a harder line being taken by the administration of Republican President Donald Trump on immigration.
"There's a lot going on in the immigration world," said retired Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg, who began working with retired Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers about a month ago to create the Connecticut Lawyers for Immigration Justice campaign. "We really do this as a nonpartisan, apolitical effort. For us, this is really about the right to due process and the right to assistance to counsel."
Holzberg, who sits on the board of directors for Connecticut Legal Services, said he got the idea for the fundraising initiative after listening to a radio program about the two immigrant children who were separated by federal officials at the U.S.-Mexico border this year and detained by a government contractor in Groton. Ultimately, lawyers from Connecticut Legal Services and Yale Law School recently helped to reunite the children with their parents.
"As I was thinking about that case, I think like many, felt frustrated about what was going on," he said. "But I also concluded it was better to try and do something positive rather than just wallow in my own feelings."
Holzberg, a partner at Pullman & Comley LLC, expects the campaign will last roughly four to eight weeks. A website has been created to collect contributions. He said bar associations are also sending a solicitation letter to their members and various law firms. Some associations are holding fundraising events in the fall. There have already been "significant" pledges of money, he said. The effort is being supported by past and present bar association presidents, law school deans and others.
Rogers, now a partner and head of the appellate practice at Day Pitney LLC, said all of the money will go toward program services at the state's three full-service legal aid nonprofits. She said contributions will support urgent needs, including payment of expert needs; purchases of new technology to help lawyers communicate with detained clients; and increased staffing.
Joshua Perry, the deputy director of Connecticut Legal Services and one of the lawyers who worked on the case involving the two immigrant children, said his attorneys can provide free legal help only to a limited number of clients because of funding constraints.
"We are serving a tiny percentage of the migrant children and families in Connecticut who desperately need legal counsel. And it's not because we're not trying. It's because we just don't have the resources to meet the significant and growing need," said Perry, adding how nearly 600 people facing deportation had to defend themselves last year in the Hartford Immigration Court because they couldn't afford lawyers and Connecticut Legal Services didn't have the resources to help them.
"That's a legal crisis," he said, "and that's a moral crisis in the state of Connecticut."