February 13, 2024
Connecticut’s First Black Woman Chief Public Defender Placed On Leave Following Commission Disagreement
Sometimes power gets the best of us...
TaShun Bowden-Lewis, the first Black woman to serve as chief public defender in Connecticut, has been placed on administrative leave.
Bowden-Lewis was suspended on Feb. 9 after months of intense disagreements with the commission that oversees the state’s public defender services.
In a letter, Commission Chairman Richard N. Palmer said Bowden-Lewis’ reprimand was the result of an “investigation by the commission into certain behavior that, if confirmed, could be grounds for disciplinary action.”
“The commission will complete the investigation as soon as reasonably possible, and, upon the conclusion of the investigation, which may involve allegations in addition to those identified in this letter, the chief public defender will have an opportunity to address the allegations investigated by the commission,” Palmer wrote.
Bowden-Lewis’ suspension coincided with a no-confidence vote handed down by a public defender union. She was cited for a “perpetual state of controversy and dysfunction” in the division of the state’s Judicial Branch.
Prior to the announcement of her suspension, the chief public defender was issued a letter accusing her of having access to the state email accounts of two senior division attorneys—Deborah Del Prete Sullivan, the agency’s legal counsel, and Joseph Lopez, the divisional director of complex litigation—without cause. Bowden-Lewis was also accused of retaliating against them for their open criticism of her.
The way in which she ran her office was also questioned. Bowden-Lewis received allegations of placing an employee on administrative leave for “no valid reason” and also issued a letter reprimanding another employee for “no valid reason and in retaliation against that employee for disagreeing with you and cooperating with the Commission.”
Bowden-Lewis is to have no contact with any clients or staff, and is banned from all division facilities or offices unless instructed otherwise. This disciplinary action is a major setback after her historic appointment in 2022.
According to WFSB, in 2023, Joseph Lopez, one of the two senior division attorneys, issued a letter in which he called Bowden-Lewis’ behavior “inappropriate and unacceptable” and her leadership producing “low morale and dissatisfaction” within her division. In addition, she failed to fill 17 open positions.
Lopez wrote that whenever those issues were brought to her attention, Bowden-Lewis would often cite racial discrimination as a defense.