Frederica Brenneman — a pioneering Connecticut judge, longtime Westport resident and the inspiration for the popular TV series “Judging Amy” — died peacefully in Woodland Hills, California last month, after a long illness. She was 94.
In 1943, at the age of 16, the Ann Arbor, Michigan native left for Radcliffe College. She fell in love with the East Coast, and made it her home for the next 73 years.
In 1950 was accepted to the first class of women admitted to Harvard Law School. There she met her husband of 65 years, Russell Brenneman. They married in 1951 — the first married couple to graduate from Harvard Law.
In 1967, the mother of 3 young children, Frederica was working as a law clerk to the Connecticut Legislature’s Judiciary Committee when the United States Supreme Court, in the landmark In Re Gault decision, held that children facing delinquency proceedings are entitled to due process of law — including the constitutional right to legal counsel. In the wake of this decision, Connecticut’s Juvenile Court doubled in size.
Frederica was appointed to the court, becoming the second female judge in state history. In 1978 she became a Superior Court judge.
Judge Brenneman was an influential figure in the field of juvenile justice, from its modern beginnings in 1967 and throughout her long career. She specialized in abuse and neglect cases, pushed for stronger legal protections for children, shaped clear statewide protocols and case law, trained countless judges, and educated caseworkers, attorneys, parents, and the public on court procedures. In 1979 she helped found Children in Placement, which monitors and supports children in Connecticut’s foster care system.
Over the years, Judge Brenneman and her work were recognized and honored by a wide range of organizations, including the Connecticut Bar Association, Radcliffe College, St. John’s University and Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, among others. In 2013 Harvard Law School lauded her, saying: “Venerable jurist and trailblazer, your distinguished contributions in the field of law as a passionate advocate for juvenile rights set an unparalleled standard for all graduates of Harvard Law School.”
Frederica (Freddie, to her friends) was a passionate lover of the arts, especially theater. She loved Tanglewood, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Broadway. She served as a deacon of South Congregational Church in Glastonbury, and Saugatuck Congregational Church.
Rev. Alison Patton says:
Freddie and her husband Russ were longtime Westport residents, and devoted members at Saugatuck Church. The bench next to our labyrinth was placed there in memory of Russ, 3 years ago.
Freddie inspired us all. As Judge Brenneman, she had an immeasurable positive impact on the lives of at-risk children in Connecticut. As Freddie, she gifted us at Saugatuck with her quick wit, clear thinking and abiding friendship. We miss her!
She was an avid traveler (Turkey and Tuscany were favorites) and an engaged alumna of both her undergraduate and graduate schools. From 1999 to 2005 Frederica served as advisor on the television drama, “Judging Amy,” which was inspired by her life and work, and which she co-created with her daughter Amy.
With her dignity, grace, humor and fierce intelligence, Frederica enjoyed a large and diverse circle of devoted friends, family and protégés, both within and outside the legal profession.
Frederica is survived by her sons Matthew and Andrew (Dr. Karen Cruz-Brenneman) and daughter Amy (Brad Silberling), and 5 grandchildren: Granger Brenneman, Charlotte and Bodhi Silberling, and Ava and Charles Brenneman.
Donations in her honor may be made to Children in Placement,