It was less a debate than a civil, dignified event—a panel of highly qualified attorneys including one recently seated judge.
The League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut sponsored the Thursday in North Stonington where the six candidates for the contested Judge of Probate seat respectfully vied for the job.
The newly regionalized court will serve the towns of Stonington, Groton, North Stonington and Ledyard with the actual courtroom situated in Groton.
A question and answer format, with brief opening and closing remarks permitted, the five candidates—Democrats , Nicholas Kepple of Stonington, Edward E. Moukawsher of Groton and Peter Rotella of Stonington, Republican candidates Dean G. Antipas of Mystic and —responded to questions that sought to explore their qualifications in probate matters.
Topics included adoptions, wills, their legal expertise and acumen as well as questions that probed their personal feelings and convictions on court-related issues especially as it relates to dealing with the public.
Kepple, who has the endorsement of the Democratic Party, a former First Selectman and municipal attorney, described his style as being “compassionate and straightforward.”
“I enjoy helping people using a straightforward approach,” he said in his opening
remarks. He added, in response to a question about what personal qualities qualify him for the job that he went to law school in his 30s and was a “client before I was an attorney and I learned a lot” employing “creative problem solving.”
“My parents taught me well. You become a better person” when you serve the
community, he said.
Grenger, who is a former Ledyard Judge of Probate and Probate Judge in New London’s Children’s Probate Court, agreed that “compassion is a very important criteria” as a judge. But she also pointed to her experience as a judge and also as a certified mediator and child welfare specialist that make her a “natural fit” for the post as Judge of Probate for the new regional district.
“I’m the only judge,” she said, “I will not require any additional training.” And she added that, “regardless of who you vote for, come out and vote…every vote counts.”
Moukawsher, a five-term Connecticut state representative from Groton, described himself as having the “ability to listen well, judge character and be compassionate.” And, he said, if elected he’d be “a full time judge.”
“I want to be judged on my record, not my personal business,” he said. “I want to continue my tradition of helping people.”
Rotella has been practicing law for 38 years and was appointed as a state attorney trial referee, arbitrator and special public defender. He said if elected his “first duty would be to the court,” adding that his law partner would “take over my practice.”
And he vowed to “continue the tradition” of outreach to the community by visiting senior centers and other venues in all four towns to help people understand the “probate process.” He said he would, as allowed by state statute, move the court to different towns, when possible.
Janney, who grew up in Groton and now lives in Pawcatuck, stressed that the Judge of Probate is a non-partisan office. “And it should never be anything but non-partisan.”
“We’re running under the party but we know the office is not political,” he said. Janney added that the voters have a very practiced and experienced pool from which to choose when they head to the polls.
“I think we are all well qualified. The voters are extremely fortunate. We’d all make fine judges.”
Antipas, from Mystic, has 20 years of legal experience handling matters from conservatorships to wills, has also volunteered in family counseling and low income elderly housing matters.
He said that while he agrees each candidate has the qualifications for the job, he felt he had the edge: “You have to come to this not as a judge, not as a lawyer, but as a human being.”
Antipas added that as he’s gone “door-to-door’ campaigning, he’s learned that people have less than a good understanding of probate court, and even where it is.
"I’ll go to the people to help demystify the issues,” he vowed.
A primary election is slated for Tuesday, June 21 that will decide the highest vote getter from each party to square off in the election set for August 16.