Last night, I was among the many lawyers and and their guests in attendance at Amarante’s Sea Cliff in New Haven as the Honorable Maureen M. Murphy was presented with the Diversity Award by the Connecticut Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of the award. I felt proud just to be in the room — and honored to be seated at her table.
In addition to receiving the Diversity Award, Judge Murphy was presented with a proclamation from Governor Dannel Malloy in recognition for her many contributions to the community and for her numerous legal accomplishments.
During my first year of law school, a mutual acquaintance suggested I contact Maureen Murphy to ask for an internship. I had heard of her legal accomplishments and was quite intimidated at the thought of calling and requesting an interview. It remains the best call I ever made. Judge Murphy – then Attorney Murphy – became an invaluable mentor. I wanted to learn about lesbian and gay law specifically, as well as family law. Maureen Murphy was poised to teach me about both areas.
I recall sitting before her that first afternoon, a lowly new law student with little knowledge about the workings of the law from a lawyer’s perspective … and a whole lot of dreams. She kindly ignored my obvious lack of legal savvy and filled me up with enough inspiration to last my entire career. We remained in touch after law school and when I made the leap to open my own solo practice, it was Maureen Murphy who taught me everything I needed to know about lesbian and gay law as a lawyer.
In the years that have followed, Maureen Murphy has always been there for me when I had a case to discuss or a question that needed her expertise. Her work has continued to inspire me all these years later and last night was certainly no exception. Listening to her remarks sent chills up my spine. Her story is amazing and its effect on this listener is to make me strive to be a better lawyer.
Judge Murphy’s journey to the bench did not begin with a career in law but rather with time spent as a volunteer at a school for underprivileged children on a reservation in New Mexico. She recounted the story of a five-year-old boy afflicted with Down Syndrome who was a student at a special school that had opened a few weeks before her arrival in New Mexico. The boy had lived his entire life in a nursing home with four other neglected children and was unable to eat solid food (he did not know how to swallow). He was unable to move past the parameters of an area the size of the crib to which he had been confined, even when placed outside of it. He was badly in need of medical and dental treatment. When Murphy approached colleagues at a local hospital, she recalls being shocked that they refused to help. She was told, in no uncertain terms, that it would be a waste of the doctors’ time. The medical professionals simply did not find any worth in that boy as a human being. That outraged Murphy, who became a tireless advocate for the boy and others like him.
The experience so moved her that when she relocated to Connecticut, Murphy earned a Masters degree in Special Education. She spoke of another boy who had been badly abused by his mother and had been sent to live with his grandmother. During her practicum, Murphy was assigned to work with him one-on-one. He was thriving in his new home and his schooling was progressing nicely. One day, he failed to report for school and Murphy became concerned. She learned that he had witnessed an uncle murder his grandmother — and had himself been injured while trying to stop the attack. Murphy and another teacher hurried to the hospital where they were told the boy was being held there until his mother (the boy’s abuser) could come and claim him. Murphy and her colleague fought against that outrageous injustice and the boy was placed with a safe family member. It was then that Maureen Murphy knew it was time to earn a law degree. She earned her J.D. from Quinnipiac University School of Law and her LLM from New York University Law School. The rest, as they say, is history.
As an attorney, Maureen Murphy worked tirelessly to bring equality and justice to not only her clients but to the community as a whole. She holds the distinction of bringing the first action for peer-to-peer sexual harassment under under Title IX in the country. She has also earned respect and notoriety for her work in cases based on gender, race, disability, and sexual orientation discrimination.
She contributed to noted cases in Connecticut including Ireland v. Ireland (parental relocation), Boy Scouts of America v. Wyman (workplace contributions denied based on sexual orientation discrimination), and Andrew O’Brien and Barry E. Amos v. Town of West Hartford, Cornerstone Aquatics Center (the town pool denied family membership discount to the couple based upon their sexual orientation). She is perhaps most known for her work in the groundbreaking Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health case that resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage in the State of Connecticut.
For a woman with such an amazing string of legal accomplishments, Judge Murphy is remarkably humble and genuine. After listening to the other speakers tell of her significant contributions to the legal world (and specifically the LGBT movement), she refused to accept all the glory for herself. Instead, she insisted on acknowledging those people who fought right alongside her for equality and justice. Even while she was being honored herself, she took time to recognize and honor the contributions of others.
Prior to her appointment to the bench this February, Maureen Murphy was the founder and co-chair of the Connecticut Gay and Lesbian Law Association, former counsel to the Connecticut Coalition for LGBT Civil Rights, a member of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) Law and Public Policy Committee, President of Liberty Community Services (formerly CARP) and the former vice president of and legal advisor to Love Makes a Family. Judge Murphy was the 2005 recipient of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Organization for Women’s Harriet Tubman Award for Social Justice, the 2006 recipient of the New Haven Gay and Lesbian Community Center’s Dorothy Award, the 2007 recipient of the Maria Miller Stewart Award from CWEALF and the 2010 recipient of the Sengbe Pieh Award for Social Justice from the First and Summerfield Church on the Green and Amistad America.
On the ride home from the event, I reflected on all I have learned from Maureen M. Murphy. I realized that she didn’t just teach me how to be a strong advocate for my clients, she taught me how to be a better person. For that I will always be grateful.
Congratulations, Judge Murphy.
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copyright 2012 Irene C. Olszewski, Esq.