Judge Bingham Believed In Second Chances

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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As a state legislator, James Bingham helped create Connecticut's accelerated rehabilitation program. As a judge, he was true to the philosophy behind the AR program and often allowed nonviolent offenders to stay out of prison.

Bingham, who served three terms in the state House of Representatives and presided over an array of criminal cases in the Stamford courthouse, died Nov. 18 at age 88 at his Stamford home.

"I had the privilege of working with Judge Bingham when I was assigned to the Stamford-Norwalk Judicial District," said Connecticut Chief Justice Chase Rogers. "He was a compassionate judge who was willing to use his judicial authority to help those who appeared before him to improve their lives. He believed that people are entitled to a second chance."

Bingham was a Republican representative from Stamford from 1969 to 1974. During that time, he helped push a bill through the legislature that consolidated the state's court system, combining the old Circuit Court and Court of Common Pleas to form the current system of Superior Courts.

Howard Ehring, a senior public defender in Stamford, said that as cochair of the legislature's Judiciary Committee, Bingham also drafted a bill establishing the accelerated rehabilitation program, which allows first-time criminal offenders to avoid prison and ultimately wipe their records clean if they stay out of trouble for a probationary period.

When he was on the bench—he served as a judge and a judge trial referee from 1983 to 2008—Bingham made regular use of AR in sentencing defendants.

"If people accepted responsibility and were amenable to AR programs, as long as it was a nonviolent offense, he was always ready to give a second chance, many times to the consternation of the state's attorney," Ehring said.

Stamford lawyer Mark Katz said that while Bingham "was respected by everybody, he was revered by defense attorneys because of his recognition of the fact that for relatively nonserious criminal conduct, people should not have their lives ruined by a conviction.

Ehring said Bingham lived in a house that was built in the 1800s and in which three generations of his family had lived.

"He was always one who never wanted to forget the past and the old way of doing things," Ehring said. "He still has the beehive oven with the wrought iron utensils."

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