Even with the recent consolidation of the probate districts from 117 to just 54, contested races for judge of probate are fairly rare.
This Tuesday, however, voters in District 4 - comprising Windsor, East Windsor and South Windsor - will have a choice between a whopping four candidates in a special election for the judge of probate seat, vacant since late February after the death of Brian Griffin.
“It isn’t often you get more than one,” said Republican candidate Kevin McCann, who is running against Democrat Marianne Lassman Fisher and Independents Keith Yagaloff and Judith Paquin. “Typically, one candidate is cross-endorsed by both sides.”
All four candidates are long-time attorneys who reside in South Windsor and practice law in the Greater Hartford area. The candidate who gets elected will serve out the remaining two years of Griffin’s four-year term and then come up for re-election for a full term in 2014.
Polls are open in each town from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. For polling locations in South Windsor, click here. For polling information in Windsor, click here. For polling information in East Windsor, visit here.
The following are profiles (in no particular order) for each candidate derived from interviews with Patch:
Judith Paquin (Independent) - The Greater Windsor area could have its own Judge Judy.
It’s not a far-out description, as Paquin, like the popular judge on television, has a lot of personality. Just visit her campaign website and be treated to "Gonna Fly Now" from Rocky.
Paquin, who graduated from Western New England Law School and was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 1988, has been campaigning tirelessly since she announced that she was running. That includes canvassing District 4 and meeting as many people as possible.
“It’s going fabulously,” she said in an interview in July. “I am having so much fun. I am also getting a wonderful response.”
Paquin said she had a simple reason for running for judge of probate.
“People are so dissatisfied with politics as usual,” she said. “They’re tired of the bickering between Democrats and Republicans. It’s pervasive.”
She believes that people want a judge who isn’t “beholden” to either political party.
In addition, she said that “every attorney has that somewhere they want to be a judge.”
Paquin has her own general practice in South Windsor, which handles cases ranging from probate to bankruptcy to divorce.
In her 24 years of practicing law, Paquin said she has appeared in many matters in probate court, including children’s issues and conservatorships. She has even handled an involuntary sterilization case.
“I’ve done every kind of case they have,” she said. “I handled more probate than anything else.”
What makes her qualified to serve District 4 as judge of probate, Paquin said, is that she has “a knack for people,” a trait that she says is essential for people who generally are going through a sensitive period of their lives.
“I have compassion and I understand what they are going through,” she said. “You have to be a people person. … Many people are crying because they have lost a loved one and you get young parents where [the Department of Children and Families] is trying to take their kid. …
“I am fair and compassionate and you do have to know the law. You’ve got to be a very good lawyer and cut through the subterfuge of some of the things presented in court. And you’ve got to be well-prepared.”
Paquin, the mother of two teenagers, said that running her own practice for as long as she has shows that she not only is a quality attorney, but also is a hard-working small business owner.
If elected, Paquin said that she would still handle some cases and keep her practice open, but not full-time. She has held public office in East Windsor and South Windsor, serving on the school board for 12 years and the town council for three and she said that she is ready for the challenge.
“I felt like for the last 24 years I’ve been training for this job and didn’t realize I was doing it,” Paquin said. “This is what I am destined for.”
Keith Yagaloff (Independent) - Like Paquin, Yagaloff said that he is running as an independent because the judge of probate should not be a political position.
“We have the support of [Griffin’s] family and friends,” Yagaloff said in a telephone interview. “We want to be non-political and independent. We don’t want political parties to infiltrate the [position of] probate judge. … We’re finding that all the forces are out there. South Windsor Democrats versus Windsor Democrats, Republicans versus Democrats. This has become a very political election.”
Yagaloff, who is in the middle of his fourth term as a South Windsor Town Councilor, has a general practice law firm in town that he has run for the last 12 years. His practice as a trial attorney includes probate and civil litigation. He and his wife work together in the office and the Yagaloffs have three children.
In a recent interview, Yagaloff said that he is the best candidate for the judge of probate position.
“I am the only person in this type of practice area full-time doing this kind of work,” he said, noting that he has been a conservator and a guardian. “I bring empathy and an abundance of respect for the clients and the people I work with.”
Yagaloff said that he works with people with mental illnesses, people who need conservators and people who are in nursing homes.
He said that none of the other candidates are trial attorneys and, therefore, are not as familiar with the rules of evidence as he is.
“I have a very broad background,” he said.
Yagaloff said that, since Griffin’s passing, “there is a vacuum there that will not be filled by the other three candidates. The need in the community is for a good attorney to fill the position. For me, it’s an opportunity to help three communities.”
He said that he would scale back his practice, but, like the other candidates, would keep his office open in the event that he is not re-elected.
Prior to becoming a member of the Connecticut bar, he was a biomedical researcher. He has also served one appointed term on the South Windsor Board of Education.
Kevin McCann (Republican) - When he discusses his qualifications to be judge of probate, McCann ticks off an impressive resume.
Indeed, he has practiced law for 29 years, the last 22 of which he has focused primarily on trusts, estates and probate work.
He was with Tyler Cooper & Alcorn for 25 years before joining the Hartford firm Hinkley, Alley and Snyder as a partner in 2008.
A graduate of Marshall Wythe School of Law, College of William & Mary, he has served on the South Windsor Town Council since 2005. Prior to that, he was on the South Windsor Planning & Zoning Commission from 1999-2005, and served as chairman of the hearings for The Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk.
He is also a member of the Estates and Probate Section of the Connecticut Bar Association, the Greater Hartford Probate Council and the Estate & Business Planning Council. McCann was recognized by Hartford Magazine as a top attorney in trusts & estates in the area.
It’s his experience that McCann said makes him most qualified to serve as judge of probate.
“I’m the only candidate who has devoted two decades of practice to trusts, estates and probate,” said McCann, noting that he has been peer-reviewed in LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell - a respected directory that provides information on attorneys and law firms - as a 5.0 out of 5.0. “I have the highest rating of expertise and ethics in the field. … That’s something that I take very seriously and it’s something that there’s no compromise on.”
And it's that experience that McCann said sets him apart from the other three candidates in the field.
“All the others do some probate work,” he said. “I do this exclusively and have done so for a significant period of time.”
McCann said that he has represented people from all walks of life in probate matters, from no-asset cases to those with substantial assets, taxable and non-taxable estates. He has also represented children and served as a conservator for people.
“I’ve run the gamut in terms of [my] practice in probate,” he said.
If elected, McCann, who is married and has three children, said that he would remain in practice at his firm, but that he would “certainly cut back.”
“I’d have to turn some work over to other attorneys,” said McCann, adding that he would be restricted in terms of the types of cases he could continue to have. “I would not be able to represent anyone in my own court or in any contested matter in probate court.”
McCann noted that most probate matters are not contested.
He said that a good judge of probate is one who “is capable and experienced in handling a wide variety of things in probate court.”
For more information, visit McCann’s campaign website.
Marianne Fisher Lassman (Democrat) - , Lassman Fisher received the support of the South Windsor and East Windsor Democrats at the party's convention and she defeated Windsor resident and attorney Jim Welsh to become the Democratic Party candidate.
A resident of South Windsor since 1996, Lassman Fisher is the only candidate who has held the judge of probate position before, having served South Windsor and East Windsor before the mergers from 2002 to 2010.
“I’m the only one who has probate judge experience,” she said in a telephone interview. “I really think someone should get in who has been successful at it and I have.”
A graduate of Western New England Law School, Lassman Fisher has been an attorney since 1986 and has her own general practice in South Windsor, in which she focuses on estates, probate, real estate and small business matters.
Lassman Fisher said that, if elected, she would “modify” her practice, but that she would not give it up entirely, as the term for which she is running is just two years - those left on Griffin’s term before he passed away.
“I will have to run again in two years, so I don’t want to give it up entirely,” she said.
In addition to having served as judge of probate, Lassman Fisher served on the South Windsor Town Council and she is a founding member of the Children’s Law Center.
Prior to becoming an attorney, Lassman Fisher was an audiologist for 10 years. A South Windsor resident since 1987, Lassman Fisher is married and has two children, ages 27 and 28.
Correction: The original piece said that Paquin has not held public office. South Windsor Patch regrets the error.