On October 4th, 2023, President Biden nominated Sarah F. Russell to the District Court for the District of Connecticut. Professor Russell is Director of the Civil Justice Clinic at Quinnipiac University School of Law. Her teaching and research interests include sentencing policy, juvenile justice, prison conditions, and access to justice. Russell previously represented indigent defendants at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Connecticut.
Professor Russell was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1976. She attended Yale College then Yale Law School, earning her B.A. in Ethics, Politics, and Economics in 1998 and her J.D. in 2002.
Russell began her legal career as a law clerk for Judge Michael B. Mukasey, then Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. She then went on to clerk for Judge Chester J. Straub on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. After clerking, Professor Russell worked as a federal public defender in New Haven, Connecticut, representing indigent clients at both the trial and appellate levels.
In 2007, Russell joined Yale Law School as a lecturer and associate research scholar in law. She served as the Director of the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program, managing the law school’s public interest fellowship program and mentoring students interested in pursuing public interest law. She also held weekly workshops on public interest law topics ranging from imprisonment to federalism to detention. A strong advocate for the rights of incarcerated individuals, Ms. Russell also oversaw the Prison Legal Services and Complex Federal Litigation Clinics. In these clinics, students represented incarcerated individuals in state and federal confinement cases.
In 2011, Russell began teaching at Quinnipiac University School of Law. She is the Director of both the Juvenile Sentencing Project and the Legal Clinic. The Juvenile Sentencing Project reviews the treatment of children in the adult criminal justice system and advocates for policy changes to juvenile justice programs. The Legal Clinic facilitates student representation of indigent clients in cases ranging from family law to prison conditions to housing. Ms. Russell was awarded tenure in 2015 and currently serves as the Carmen Tortora Professor of Law.
The following cases are representative of Professor Russell’s legal career:
- Tompkins v. Pullen, No. 3:22-CV-00339, 2022 WL 3212368 (D. Conn. Aug. 9, 2022) (Williams, J.) An incarcerated mother released to home confinement under the CARES Act, a pandemic-era law which aimed to reduce the number of individuals in federal prisons, was unjustly sent back to prison by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) after accidentally visiting an unauthorized location. Tompkins was provided with no notice or opportunity to be heard by a neutral decision-maker. Russell filed a habeas corpus petition in federal district court on behalf of Tompkins, arguing that the BOP violated Tompkins’ due process rights. The court agreed with Russell, finding that incarcerated individuals are entitled to notice of reimprisonment, a hearing in front of a neutral decisionmaker, and a summary of the reasons for revoking home confinement.
- Forde v. Baird, 720 F. Supp. 2d 170 (D. Conn. 2010) (Burns, J.). Forde, an incarcerated Muslim woman, challenged a Bureau of Prisons policy allowing male correctional officers to conduct non-emergency pat-downs of female prisoners. Forde argued that the policy violated her religious beliefs because her faith barred her from being touched by men who are not immediate family members. At trial, the court found in favor of Forde, agreeing that these pat-downs violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Russell was part of the team of lawyers and law students who worked on the case.
- Martínez-Brooks v. Easter, No. 3:20-CV-00569 (D. Conn.) (Shea, J.) (later captioned Whitted v. Easter). Russell worked to protect medically vulnerable prisoners at the Federal Correction Institution in Danbury, Connecticut. Under the pandemic-era CARES Act of 2020, federal prison wardens were authorized to release qualifying individuals to home confinement. The warden at FCI Danbury granted very few transfers, despite the institution being rife with COVID-19. Russell, along with co-counsel and her Quinnipiac Legal Clinic students, brought an Eighth Amendment claim against the warden. The court sided with Russell, issuing an order which required the Bureau of Prisons to take immediate action to transition select prisoners to home confinement.
- Bardo v. Wright, No. 3:17-CV-1430 (JBA), 2019 WL 5864820 (D. Conn. Nov. 8, 2019) (Arterton, J.). Bardo alleged profound neglect while serving his sentence at a Connecticut State Prison. For two years, Bardo suffered from skin cancer, but the prison made no effort to diagnose or treat him, despite an obvious and growing lesion on his face. After his release, Bardo had to undergo intensive surgery to remove the lesion. This surgery resulted in extreme scarring. Russell and her students at the Quinnipiac Legal Clinic brought suit on Bardo’s behalf, arguing medical neglect in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The case was eventually settled.
Professional Activities and Accolades
Professor Russell was appointed to serve on the District of Connecticut’s Federal Grievance Committee in 2015. The Committee reviews misconduct complaints against attorneys licensed to practice before the court. In 2016, Governor Malloy appointed Russell to the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, for which she sits on the Steering Committee and as Vice-Chair of the Incarceration and Collateral Consequences Committee. In 2020, Russell was appointed Counsel to the Committee by former Chief Judge Stefan R. Underhill. Judge Underhill also appointed Russell to serve as a member of the District Court’s Standing Committee on the Criminal Justice Act, which evaluates the court’s policies for attorneys representing indigent defendants under that Act. She served as a member of the Committee from 2019 to 2023.
Russell’s work has earned her a variety of professional accolades. In 2013, she was named a “New Leader in the Law” by the Connecticut Law Tribune and in 2014 she was named one of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund’s “40 Women for the Next 40 Years.”