Judge summoned to high court to explain 2-year absence

February 11, 2022 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut judge has been summoned before the state Supreme Court to explain why she should not be disciplined or fired for failing to show up to work for at least the past two years while continuing to be paid.

The high court issued the summons on Thursday to Judge Alice Bruno and ordered her to appear before the justices on April 5.

Bruno, who is assigned to Waterbury Superior Court, is accusing court officials of refusing to accommodate her disability so she can return to work. She also claims Judicial Branch officials have retaliated against her.

Messages seeking comment were left for Bruno and court officials on Friday, when state workers were off for the Lincoln’s Birthday holiday.

“Judge Bruno shall show cause why her failure to perform judicial functions for at least the last two years is not a violation of the following Rules contained within the Code of Judicial Conduct: 1.2 (Promoting Confidence in the Judiciary); 2.1 (Giving Precedence to the Duties of Judicial Office); 2.5 (Competence, Diligence, and Cooperation),” the summons says.

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Bruno’s absence from work was first reported in November by lawyer and Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie, a Republican former state lawmaker. The judge has not reported to work since Nov. 14, 2019, but the state has paid her more than $350,000 since then, according to judiciary documents Rennie obtained under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Bruno’s lawyer, Jacques Parenteau, told The Associated Press on Friday that the judge has been out of work because Judicial Branch official refuse to accommodate her disability. The judge has lodged that allegation in a 120-paragraph complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, Parenteau said in an emailed statement.

The complaint also accuses court officials of retaliating against her for seeking the accommodation, which her doctors are requiring, Parenteau said.

“Judge Bruno continues to seek an accommodation that would allow her to return to work,” he said.

Parenteau declined to elaborate on the judge’s disability.

In a letter Parenteau wrote to a court system human resources official in October 2020, he said the Judicial Branch appeared to be violating the federal Family and Medical Leave Act by refusing to allow Bruno to seek medical care to treat various physical and psychological conditions, and making disparaging remarks to her when she did seek care.

“Indeed, the hostility toward her conditions created a work environment that increasingly became more intolerable as the vicious cycle of anxiety leading to failure to perform resulted in hospitalization for heart attack-like symptoms in November of 2019,” Parenteau wrote.

He claimed mistreatment by court officials led to her accommodation requests and her being out of work.

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State Rep. Steven Stafstrom, a Bridgeport Democrat and co-chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, supported the Supreme Court’s summoning of Bruno to a hearing.

“It’s about time,” he said. “Whenever anybody hasn’t shown up to work for two years, presumably their employer has an obligation to have an understanding of why. My understanding is the Judicial Branch is questioning why she’s still unable to perform her duties and she should have to explain that to the Supreme Court at this point.”