Judge Garfinkel was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, and attended Yale College. After he graduated, summa cum laude, in 1977, he pursued graduate studies in history and attended Yale Law School. Upon earning his Juris Doctor in 1981, he served as a Law Clerk to former United States District Judge Frederick B. Lacey in Newark, New Jersey.
Judge Garfinkel then served as an Assistant District Attorney in New York County before returning to New Haven. He worked at Wiggin & Dana and then taught four years at the University of Bridgeport School of Law (now Quinnipiac). In 1987, he joined the Waterbury office of Carmody & Torrance, and became a partner in 1992. Judge Garfinkel practiced in civil litigation.
While in practice he served on the Board of Directors of Connecticut Legal Services and was active in state and local bar associations. He began service as a United States Magistrate Judge in November, 1996. In 2004, Judge Garfinkel received the Judicial Award of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, the Distinguished Service Award of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates, and the Honorable Robert C. Zampano Award for Excellence in Mediation awarded by Community Mediation, Inc. He has created and taught courses at Yale College, including Crime and Criminal Justice in America and Child, Family and State.
Judge Garfinkel began practicing martial arts in 1997 and in 2002 received his black belt in Tang Soo Do.