When Judge Carmen Espinosa was a little girl, she says she didn’t even know what a lawyer did. The only one she knew of was in the black and white television show “Perry Mason.” But fast forward a few decades, and just last month, she took office as the first Hispanic to sit on the Connecticut State Supreme Court.
“It’s an immense honor that the government had the trust in my abilities to appoint me to such a prestigious seat,” says Espinosa. “Being a Supreme Court judge is the pinnacle of my career.”
She says although she’s also enjoyed her jobs as an FBI agent, assistant U.S. attorney, and a French and Spanish teacher in Connecticut public schools, having achieved this position is “extraordinarily satisfying.”
“All of them were building blocks to my present status,” says Espinosa, explaining all of her previous jobs gave her the skills she needs today — gathering facts, building cases, and enforcing the laws.
She says being a judge wasn’t even a slight dream when she was younger.
“My goal was to graduate from high school, because my parents never did,” says Espinosa, who was born in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico and moved to New Britain, Conn. at age 3 with her family. “As I got into high school and associated with friends going to college, that’s when I thought about going to college. I thought I could be a teacher, because that was something I could attain.”
She says they settled in New Britain, Conn., because a cousin told them there was a lot of work there.
“It changed my life,” says Espinosa, who was the first in her family to graduate college.
Eventually, she graduated from Central Connecticut State University in 1971, received her master’s degree in Hispanic Studies from Brown University in 1973 and received her law degree from George Washington University Law School in 1976.
“I was in a program at George Washington University called Law Students in Court, and that gave me my first taste of being in the court — once I did that, I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer.”
Today, she says she enjoys the intellectual challenge that is involved in her job, and the different types of cases she oversees.
“There are never two cases that are alike,” says the judge. “There’s always a fresh approach to the cases we hear. I like that what we do affects the people — their personal life, the family side, the civil area — that’s very fulfilling.”
At 63, she has seven years as a Supreme Court judge, since the mandatory retirement age is 70.
“When I reach 70, I hope I am still mentally able to somehow serve,” says the divorced mother of three children. “I would like to teach at a college or law school so I could share my knowledge with further generations. I started out as a teacher, and hopefully I’ll end up as a teacher.”
She says she realizes the importance of a strong support system, because her parents were always there for her.
“I could see how hard they worked to give us a better life,” says Espinosa. “They sacrificed everything to give us what they didn’t have. My mother worked in a factory, my father worked in a lumber yard, no matter what the weather…What did inspire me was my father. He used to tell me when things were difficult to never give up. He always encouraged me to keep going…I would always call home, and he would say, ‘You could do it.’”