Judge Victor A. Bolden Sworn in in Connecticut
By James I. Glasser
On January 7, 2015, Judge Victor A. Bolden was sworn in as the 38th U.S. District Judge for the District of Connecticut. He is the third Barack Obama appointee to take office in the District of Connecticut, filling the position created when Judge Janet B. Arterton took senior status. The two other Connecticut judges appointed by President Obama are Judges Meyer and Shea.
Judge Bolden was recognized for his legal scholarship and even temperament by Connecticut Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal; they stated that “Victor Bolden has the intellect, integrity and life experience that will make him a judge of courage and compassion.” Similarly, Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro observed that, “Victor is a deep believer in the rule of law and would make a fine, impartial judge for all Connecticut residents…. Victor understands the impact the law has on people.”
William Prout, a partner at Wiggin and Dana, where Judge Bolden worked from 2000 to 2005, gave Judge Bolden high praise, stating, “Victor is as fine a man as I have ever known, he’s a man of decency, integrity, caring, compassion and sound moral judgment.”
During the investiture ceremony on March 30, 2015, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp observed that she “could think of no one more appropriate to shoulder the burden of a federal judge, no one better suited to consider weighty matters, and no one more appropriate to be called Your Honor.”
Perhaps the greatest praise, however, has come from Frank Ricci, the lead plaintiff in Ricci v. DeStefano, in which Ricci found himself on the opposite side of the “v” from Judge Bolden in his prior role as Corporation Counsel for the City of New Haven. Recall that the Ricci case was litigated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite their presumptive adversarial relationship, Ricci wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee in strong support of Judge Bolden’s nomination, noting that, “Although Victor represented the City and therefore would be naturally presumed an adversary it never felt that way…. He’s always conscious that there are real people affected by decisions that are made but he is also very deliberate in those decisions with an unwavering commitment to the law…. I cannot think of anyone who would make a finer addition to our federal judiciary than him.” High praise indeed, particularly from an adversary, but not at all surprising to those who know Judge Bolden.
After Judge Bolden’s young son, Caleb Marshall Bolden, recited aloud, from memory, the preamble of the Constitution and helped his dad don his judicial robe, Judge Bolden addressed Chief Judge Janet Hall, who presided over his induction, the full court, Connecticut’s Congressional delegation, and an overflow crowd and observed that as one chapter of his career in public service ended and a new one began, “there is no greater calling than to serve the public,” and he vowed his service to “the court with unyielding fidelity to the law.”
Background and Education
Judge Bolden was born in New York in 1965 and was raised in the Dyckman Housing Projects in the Inwood section of Manhattan. He is one of four children born to loving and selfless parents. His mother worked as a nurse specializing in nephrology. His father worked in a bank and also served as a church minister. Judge Bolden described his parents as individuals devoted to helping others and to raising their family in an environment of love and generosity.
The Bolden family moved from Inwood to Medford, Long Island. Judge Bolden attended Patchogue-Medford High School, where he not only excelled academically but also participated in student activities including serving as the president of the Honor Society and president of the Future Business Leaders of America Club. He graduated from high school in 1982 and enrolled in Columbia University.
While at Columbia, Judge Bolden distinguished himself academically, earning the Brod Room Prize, the John T. Lewis Scholarship, the Milch Prize, and the Leonard A. Pullman Memorial Prize for scholarship and service to Columbia College. In 1986, after graduating from Columbia, Judge Bolden enrolled at Harvard Law School. At Harvard, Judge Bolden again distinguished himself, earning, among other awards, the Irving Oberman Memorial Award for the best paper on a current legal subject. Judge Bolden earned his J.D. from Harvard in 1989 and was admitted to the New York bar in 1990.
After graduating from Harvard, Judge Bolden did not pursue coveted clerkships or high paying Wall Street jobs. Judge Bolden spent his first year as a Marvin Karpatkin fellow with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation. Upon completing the year-long fellowship, Judge Bolden was asked to stay with the ACLU as a staff attorney for an additional four years. Judge Bolden recalled having wonderful mentors at the ACLU, including Helen Hershkoff (who now teaches at New York University Law School) and Steven Shapiro, the legal director of the ACLU. They were his role models as a young lawyer. “Helen was a brilliant lawyer and tactician; she knew the nuts-and-bolts of lawyering. Steve was one of the best and clearest writers I have ever known,” Judge Bolden told me.
Judge Bolden recalled trying the case of Ihler v. Chisolm in Montana while with the ACLU. The case involved the abuse and neglect of patients at a mental health facility. He was successful in the trial of the matter and learned a lot about being a lawyer through the process. The early trial experience also shaped his thinking about trials and how to litigate. Lessons learned in that early experience, and many others over the years, have influenced certain of his chambers’ practices now that he is a judge.
Judge Bolden left the ACLU and went to work for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, during which time he also served on the board of advisors for the National Voting Rights Institute.
When I asked Judge Bolden how his career landed him in Connecticut, he explained that he came to Connecticut in 1997 when he and his wife, whom he married in 1995, were juggling their respective careers. At the time, his wife was finishing up her Ph.D. at Princeton and ultimately landed her first academic job at the University of Connecticut. Judge Bolden was working at the NAACP in New York. They ultimately decided to live in New Haven, which was in “commuting distance,” albeit not easy commuting distance, for both. When Judge Bolden’s wife achieved an academic appointment at Yale, they decided to make their home in the New Haven area.
When the daily commute from New Haven became too much, Judge Bolden joined the New Haven firm of Wiggin and Dana, where he worked from 2000 to 2005. At Wiggin and Dana, Judge Bolden had the opportunity to work closely with Mark Kravitz, who later became a federal judge. Judge Bolden considers Judge Kravitz to be one of his important mentors, both as lawyer and judge. Judge Bolden recalls Judge Kravitz as a brilliant thinker with a razor sharp mind and an intense preparer who knew how to dissect a problem and get to its core. He had a knack for simplifying and clarifying complex issues and presenting them persuasively. Judge Kravitz was a noted appellate advocate and Judge Bolden recalled that working together to prepare for an appellate argument was a “transformative” experience. Judge Bolden also appreciated Judge Kravitz’s ability to achieve balance. He worked hard but ensured time to devote to his family.
During his time at Wiggin and Dana, Judge Bolden demonstrated a continuing commitment to public service. He served on the boards of the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Connecticut Food Bank, and the International Center of New Haven. Judge Bolden left Wiggin and Dana in 2005 to return to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and to serve as its general counsel, a post he held until 2009.
In 2009, Judge Bolden became Corporation Counsel for the City of New Haven. As the city’s lawyer, Judge Bolden managed a diverse portfolio of matters including the case of Ricci v. DeStefano, in which white firefighters challenged the city’s decision to throw out the results of a promotional exam where the results reflected racial bias. During the pendency of the case, Judge Bolden demonstrated a professionalism and respect for individuals that would cause lead plaintiff Frank Ricci to refer to him as “a consummate professional with unquestionable integrity.”
Throughout the entirety of his legal career, Judge Bolden has been a prolific writer and speaker. As a member of the editorial board of the Connecticut Law Tribune, he wrote eight editorials between 2012 and 2013. In addition, he wrote 15 articles ranging in complexity from letters to the editor to full law review articles. He also has written for many other publications. Judge Bolden is an eloquent and thoughtful public speaker and is much sought after by bar associations, church groups, public interest groups, and charitable and other organizations.
I asked Judge Bolden how he became interested in law. He indicated that his parents dedicated themselves to helping others and he saw a career in law as a vehicle that would enable him to do the same. When I asked whether he had particular inspirations or heroes, he quickly identified Martin Luther King, Jr., Justice Thurgood Marshall, and his own parents. Judge Bolden has studied the orations of Dr. King. That exercise, along with watching his father devote tremendous time to crafting, polishing, and perfecting his sermons, has contributed to his proficiency as an orator. Judge Bolden admires both Dr. King and Justice Marshall for their ability to effect change for society.
Judge Bolden considers himself privileged to have had the opportunity to work on the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Shawnee County Kansas case. After a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit holding that further desegregation relief was required in the schools in Topeka, Kansas, there was a trial on remedy before the Kansas district court. Judge Bolden, along with co-counsel, represented the plaintiff school children and parents in the trial. The remedy ultimately implemented resulted in the school district being declared unitary in 1999, ending federal court supervision. To be involved in the case initiated by Thurgood Marshall was an unfathomable privilege. It is, no doubt, also a reason Judge Bolden’s son’s middle name is Marshall.
Taking the Bench
Judge Bolden has had a full docket from the moment he took the bench. He is enjoying the ability to make certain the rule of law is respected and expending the time and effort to get it right. He finds that having advocated on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants, for government and against government, for employers and against employers, etc., gives him good perspective. He is not at all reluctant to get involved in discovery disputes and enjoys helping parties get “unstuck.” He urges parties to consider what is really important in a dispute and to work hard to figure out if there is a way to resolve the dispute. He is a proponent of referring matters out early to attempt to resolve them. Judge Bolden believes that a judge “should be fair, even-tempered, open-minded, and capable of deciding every matter based on the relevant facts and applicable law” and that a judge also should treat litigants in a respectful and professional manner.
Judge Bolden is a welcome addition to Connecticut’s extraordinary federal judiciary.