HARTFORD – A former state prosecutor nominated by Gov. Ned Lamont to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Connecticut Supreme Court was unanimously approved Monday by the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, after hearing allegations against her of impropriety during a murder trial.
The nomination of Joan K. Alexander, a veteran Superior Court judge who has served on the state Appellate Court for the past two years, will now be put to a vote of the full General Assembly before the current legislative session ends May 6.
Lamont selected Alexander, 59, of Cromwell, to replace his first nominee, Justice Christine Keller, who is approaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Raised in Bristol as the youngest of three siblings, Alexander said her father was a tool-and-die maker and her mother a school crossing guard.
Although neither went to college, she said, they were devoted to education and set the path for her to earn a degree in mechanical engineering at Yale University in 1984 before graduating from the UConn School of Law three years later and becoming a state prosecutor.
“They had an immeasurable impact on my life by instilling in me a strong work ethic and the importance of respect, fairness and integrity in all of life’s endeavors,” Alexander said of her late parents.
She became a Superior Court judge in 2000 after being nominated by Republican Gov. John Rowland.
Asked by State Sen. John Kissell, R-Enfield, to outline her judicial philosophy, Alexander described herself as “very moderate” who is “analytical and precise” as her engineering background suggests.
“I bring a careful approach to legal issues,” she said. “I think the Constitution has embedded principles that are timeless, such as people are free from unreasonable searches. That doesn’t change.”
She also said that if confirmed she would not legislate from the bench.
“It’s important to look at the plain language,” of laws passed by legislature, she said. “I’m going to look to your legislation, to its clear and plain meaning, and apply the law.”
Alexander faced mostly-friendly questioning from both Democrat and Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, but was also asked by committee co-chair State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven and other members about her role in a 1995 Hartford murder case that she prosecuted.
The defendant, Corey Turner, is serving a 60-year sentence in the shooting death of Richard Woods after an argument on Homestead Street.
Turner has claimed in a series of appeals that Alexander acted improperly by successfully objecting to the jury hearing a tape-recorded call Turner made from prison the day before the trial started that he claims provides an alibi that he was not at the scene at the time of the killing.
Trial judge Joseph Q. Koletsky sustained Alexander’s objection, and the jury never heard the recording of the phone call.
In 2000, the state Supreme Court upheld Turner’s conviction, ruling in part that “the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Corey Turner’s offer of his tape-recorded conversation.”
Turner’s son and a lawyer representing Turner told the committee Monday that Alexander also provided the jury with false and misleading information about the call, including that he fabricated the alibi and would pay his potential alibi witness for her statement.
“Her conduct during Corey’s trial, my father, reflects adversely on her trustworthiness, character and fitness to be a lawyer or a member of the judiciary,” said Christopher Turner-Williams. “I mean, what criminal defendant on an appeal before the Supreme Court can have any confidence that they can get a fair hearing of their case when one of its justices deliberately corrupted a jury’s deliberations in a capital case to secure a murder conviction and life sentence under false pretenses?”
Asked about the claims, Alexander said that decades of appeals by Turner had failed to convince any jurist that he was wrongly imprisoned. She also noted that eyewitnesses identified Turner as the shooter, as did Woods as he lay dying at the scene.
“As a prosecutor and as a judge, I believe in a thorough review of a conviction and if a mistake was made it should be corrected,” Alexander said. “Since Mr. Turner’s conviction a total of 37 judges and 18 attorneys have analyzed and reviewed his conviction. None has found any error.”
After a brief recess, the committee voted unanimously to move Alexander’s nomination to the full General Assembly for a vote.
Winfield said he also would continue to investigate the claims against her.
“I think it’s my responsibility as well to take an even more in-depth look at what has been presented to us and continue to talk to the parties bringing it,” he said.
Co-chair State Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said “While I certainly am sympathetic to the family here and the process, the best I can tell from what’s been presented to us so far, Judge Alexander comported herself in a manner that would be expected of a state’s attorney in this circumstance. Unless I see something else as this process moves forward I am confident with her nomination.”