The first man, who was represented by private counsel, was “clearly guilty” based on the jury’s assessment, Castinado said. The other, who was represented by a public defender, was in danger of being found guilty by association and being convicted for conspiracy to robbery. Every juror except for Castinado initially wanted to find him guilty.
But she explained to the others that she felt their guilty vote was based only on the fact that the second man had been seen talking to the first one on the day of the robbery. “I convinced them that there really wasn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that the second man was guilty, Castinado recalled. “It was that simple that there just wasn’t enough evidence.”
That experience helped lead Castinado to a career in the Public Defender’s Office in New Haven, where she has worked for the past 20 years. Her title is now senior public defender. “All I could think to myself was, ‘What if this was my brother?'” Castinado said, recalling that Colorado trial. “He would have been found guilty and he would have been doing time for something he didn’t do.”
Minorities still face challenges in America, as evidenced by seemingly endless reports on racial disparities in the workforce or in the criminal justice system. Those challenges, particularly in the legal field, is what the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association has been working to address and change, and Castinado is leading the way.
She was recently installed as the president of the affinity bar group after years of declining the top position and serving as secretary. She succeeds Karem Friedman, corporate counsel at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals.
“We can get our Hispanic [bar members] or any minority attorney into law firms, but getting them onto a partnership track, it’s just not easy for them because …” Castinado paused. “Well, we’re trying to figure out just why that is. The majority of partners in the state are white males. It’s just difficult to break into that.”
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans and Native Americans combined make up 7 percent of partners at major law firms nationwide.
Role Models Needed
Recently, Castinado took part in a LAW Camp, which Superior Court Judge Angela Robinson, along with the New Haven Bar Association, hosted for minority teens who are interested in pursuing a career in law. Castinado was tasked with bringing teens to a major law firm for a panel discussion and lunch with the lawyers. However, every single person on the panel was white, much to Castinado’s surprise.
She felt it would have made a difference to the teens to have a minority speaking to them from a major firm.
The CHBA is working with the Connecticut Bar Association to plan a diversity symposium for 2016. The legal community is making efforts to address diversity issues, Castinado said, but “whether those efforts come through, we’ll have to see.”
Castinado hopes to continue educational programs and networking events put in place by past leaders and members of the CHBA. She also wants to strengthen a mentorship program offered to law students in the state.
Those connections that law students make are “incredibly important,” Castinado said. As a student at Quinnipiac School of Law in the mid-1990s, Castinado became involved in the Latin America Law Student Association, partially because she knew very few people in Connecticut since she had lived in Colorado for a majority of her life. It was through her active participation in the student group that she was introduced to the CHBA.
Castinado has seen the statewide organization grow from the original 14 members in 1993 to more than 100 members today.
“Just seeing the progress the organization has made was something that I wanted to take on,” Castinado said. “The footprints of our past presidents and members continue to create a path for those in the law community by outreaching to our students and making sure we support our law students.”
There did come a time at Quinnipiac that the student group ceased to exist, simply because there weren’t enough Hispanic law students and not enough interest, Castinado said. But within the last three years, the student organization has regrouped and reorganized, this time with even more support from the CHBA.
In addition to her CHBA post, Castinado is…
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