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Dr. William Petit, whose wife and two daughters were killed in a Cheshire home invasion in 2007, speaks Monday at an informal meeting of the Office of Victim Advocate Advisory Committee at the Meriden Public Library. The meeting was hosted by Board members Len Suzio, left, and Dawn Luddy, not pictured. | Molly Callahan/Record-Journal

Victim advocate position discussed at hearing in Meriden

MERIDEN — State officials and area residents, including William Petit, voiced their opinions about the state’s next victim advocate at a public hearing Monday, calling for the office to have more autonomy from politics and for the position to be filled with someone who is empathetic to crime victims.

Office of Victim Advocate Advisory Board members Dawn Luddy and Len Suzio, who is currently running in the 13th Senate District, opened an informal meeting at the Meriden Public Library Monday evening. The district includes Meriden.

“Our goal is find out what you’re looking for, what you’d like to see,” said Suzio, a Republican.

The meeting comes roughly a month after former state Victim Advocate Garvin G. Ambrose resigned to move back to his home state of Illinois. Though only a handful of residents spoke at Monday’s meeting, all agreed that they were looking for someone empathetic and strong-willed.

Petit, whose wife and two daughters were killed in a Cheshire home invasion in 2007, was among the first to speak.

“On some level, I was very fortunate, surrounded by many friends and colleagues, and a lot of lawyers who gave me a lot of good advice to help me navigate the system, but the OVA was really a great help to me,” Petit said.

Petit added, “The person who runs this office has to be very strong-minded, and very independent,” mentioning former state victim advocate Michelle Cruz who was released after her term was up in April 2012.

Cruz, appointed by Gov. Jodi Rell, publicly opposed a program involving the early release of prison inmates that was championed by Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration.

State Sen. Dante Bartolo­meo, the incumbent in the 13th Senate District, could not attend Monday’s meeting, but was interviewed afterward.

“Michelle Cruz was somebody who was in the news a whole lot, and that concerns me. I don’t think this is a position that needs to be in the public eye,” said Bartolomeo, a Democrat.

Bartolomeo agreed that the next victim advocate be someone who could empathize with the families of victims.

“Not everybody is sensitive to the myriad of emotions families are going through after an event. This has to be someone who really understands those emotions. I think that’s really important,” she said.

An added wrinkle in the process of selecting a new state victim advocate is the timing.

Ambrose left the office midway through his four-year term, putting the office in what Suzio called “a unique situation.”

Suzio explained that the seven-member board on which he and Luddy sit has until Sept. 22 to send a list of recommendations to the governor, who has up to 60 days to make a decision on who to appoint. The governor’s appointment is subject to ratification by the state legislature.

Ambrose’s resignation, however, coincides with the upcoming gubernatorial and legislative elections.

“It’s very possible that someone will be appointed, and then not be ratified by the new legislature,” Suzio said. “The clock is ticking.” (203) 317-2279 Twitter: @MollCal

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