Republican voters in Darien and New Canaan face a decision Tuesday many of them never considered before: Who should be their probate judge? The state legislature decided in May to consolidate Connecticut's 117 probate districts into 54 in 2010. Darien and New Canaan's districts will combine officially on Jan. 5, 2011, under a judge elected in November. So far, there is no clear Democratic candidate for the position, meaning the spot will likely go to the winner of the Republican primary on Aug. 10 between John J. Ryan, Bill Osterndorf, and Michael Murray.
Darien and New Canaan's Republican parties held a joint nominating convention in May, but ended up split evenly between Ryan and Osterndorf. Darien's 10 delegates voted for Ryan, who lives and practices law in Darien, while New Canaan's 10 delegates chose Osterndorf, a New Canaan resident. After the convention, Murray, who lives in Darien but bases his law practice in New Canaan, petitioned to get on the ballot. Since then, all five Republican selectmen from the two towns endorsed Murray.
In Connecticut, probate judges handle family disputes. One major function is overseeing estates, wills and trusts. Probate courts also appoint guardians for children, granting adoptions, determining if parents are unfit and handling paternity disputes.
Ryan has the most political experience of the three, having served on Darien's Representative Town Meeting from 1989 to 1994 and in the state General Assembly from the 141st district for seven terms from 1994 to 2008. He currently works as an attorney for Darien's Tibbetts, Keating and Butler LLC. "I believe my 30-plus years of experience at a high level in the legal profession (including extensive probate experience) and my many years of involvement in a variety of levels of government and community organizations uniquely qualifies me for this new position," Ryan told reporters.
Osterndorf, a New Canaan resident, runs his own practice focusing on probate law. He has worked in that specific area of the law for 19 years in Connecticut, and sees that as his biggest advantage over his opponents. "I do wills, trust work, residential real estate work, income tax work and then probate administration," Osterndorf told a local news site. "I've been very active in the probate courts."
Murray, who grew up in Stamford, lives in Darien but practices law with New Canaan's Ivey, Barnum and O'Mara LLC. He calls his experience in both towns one of the top reasons he should be elected, along with his "intellect" and "temperament." "I'm very even keeled," Murray told reporters. "I've been at it for a long time now and I don't think there's anything out there that can get me rattled."
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