Criminal defense lawyers are seldom satisfied. Perhaps it’s the law or the rules that govern the work we do, which are not generally defendant-friendly. Or perhaps it’s our natures, to be always seeking more for those we represent. Regardless, one thing about which most federal practitioners in the District of Connecticut can agree is the quality of the bench in front of which we appear. Informed by colleagues from other parts of the country, Connecticut’s defense attorneys share an open, though closely held secret: our judges are among the best in the nation, and our District is one of the most pleasant in which to work.
It is against this backdrop that word came just before Christmas that Assistant Federal Public Defender (AFPD) Sarah Merriam has been appointed our newest Magistrate Judge, replacing the soon-to-retire, well respected Honorable Holly Fitzsimmons. Sarah is a known quantity in many Connecticut legal circles. She clerked both for our former Chief Judge and for a Circuit Judge; she was an associate at a highly regarded criminal defense firm; she was the campaign manager in a successful bid for a Congressional seat; she is active in the CBA’s Federal Practice Section; and she is a member of the Federal Grievance Committee. However, it has been in her role as an AFPD the past seven years that Sarah has arguably had the greatest impact, not only on her office and on behalf of the indigent clients she serves but also on the defense community as a whole.
You see, Sarah is the person everyone turns to with questions. A Yale Law School graduate, Sarah is the proverbial smartest person in the room, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from speaking with her because she does not put on airs. What you know is that if you call or e-mail Sarah with a question, no matter how difficult or banal, she will get back to you shortly, with a concise, correct answer.
So, while Sarah’s elevation is a loss to the defense bar, it is a tremendous gain for Connecticut’s legal community. She follows in a long line of intellectually rigorous, compassionate judges who oversee the administration of justice in the District. And, there is no doubting the asset she will quickly become. Thankfully, however, Sarah does not take the bench until April, which affords us several more months to pester her with questions.