Those judges in attendance at today’s Probate Court Assembly in the state Supreme Court chamber could look to the person sitting next to them and realize that next year, one of them won’t be there. Indeed, the 117 judges will be reduced to 54 with this year’s elections.
So the event was bittersweet. Shelton Probate Judge Fred Anthony’s term as president was up and Fairfield Probate Judge Dan Caruso was officially elected, with one ballot cast, reflecting the result of a January vote.
“We are tackling, frankly, a Herculean task,” said Milford Probate Judge Beverly Streit-Kefalas, who heads a “weighted workload” committee that will determine compensation in the new court system.
Peter Smith, a former state lawmaker who is now a veteran lobbyist whose clients include the Probate Assembly, said the judges got “out in front of the wave” instead of “waiting for all the chaos” of financial troubles about to splash on the state.
While there’s a $371-million deficit in the fiscal year that runs through June 30, the budget that starts July 1, 2011 will have a $4-billion hope that will dwarf all the gimmicks and so-called one-shot revenues that lawmakers have concocted.
“We’re going to be going into some fiscal times that we’ve never seen before,” said Smith, who represented Milford during the 1991 income-tax massacre. At the time, the bill allowing Keno lottery games was still alive before the Finance Committee, which a few hours later did not take up the legislation, killing it or deferring it for end-game budget negotiations.
“So if we put a Keno machine in every Probate court….” Anthony joked before enlisting his daughter, Victoria, to present a rose or a cigar to several judges and court staffers who helped him during his two-year term.
Caruso took the podium and pulled out a gift to make up for the time Anthony lost from his family. “…And for that reason, I have this Keno machine….” Caruso joked, presenting Anthony with a nice wood-cased mantle clock.
The faux pas of the event may have belonged to Probate Court Administrator Paul J. Knierim of Simsbury.
At one point, Knierim said he looked forward to the next two years working with “Judge Anthony,” when he clearly meant Caruso. Oops. Maybe it was because Knierim was still off balance, after being presented with a rose by Anthony’s daughter, who had run out of cigars by the time she got to the court administrator.