WALLINGFORD — A third GOP candidate has entered the crowded race for judge of probate to succeed retiring Judge Phillip Wright Jr.
Town native Patrick Birney announced his candidacy this week for the Republican nomination. Birney is a lawyer and long-time partner with Hartford firm Robinson and Cole.
“I have known Judge Wright and Elaine Johnson, his former, long-time clerk, before I went to law school,” Birney stated in a press release. “The important work of the Court and Judge Wright have inspired me to continue their legacy by working for the people of Wallingford,” stated Birney. “I have a clear understanding of how important the Wallingford Probate Court is in safeguarding the rights of citizenry, children and the intellectually disabled. I will work tirelessly for the people of Wallingford if nominated and elected.”
Probate judges preside over cases including executing wills and trusts, child custody and appointing conservators for those with intellectual disabilities. The job requires about 35 to 40 hours of work each week.
Birney joins fellow Republicans Steven Allinson and Jerry Farrell Jr. in seeking the nomination to run as the party’s candidate. Town Republicans will caucus at 6:30 p.m. on May 18 to nominate a slate of candidates. Those not nominated may opt to primary. The winning candidate will likely face Democratic candidate Jaime Hine in November’s election.
Birney earned a master’s in law degree from St. John’s University; a juris doctorate from the University of New Hampshire; a master’s degree in business administration from Loyola University in Chicago; and a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Dayton.
“With almost 25 years of experience, Birney understands the critical role the courts play in protecting the rights of individuals and ensuring care, safety and community-based solutions for the most vulnerable residents and families,” according to the statement.
Reached on Thursday, Birney said there are three reasons he entered the race. One, to continue the community connection established by Wright; two, to serve his community; and three to advocate for the most vulnerable in society, children, the elderly and disabled. He said his legal training in a large law firm gives him an edge against his competitors.
Birney has served on the Wallingford Planning and Zoning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals. He is currently vice chairperson of the Wallingford Public Utilities Commission and serves on Masonicare’s Board of Trustees and Executive Committee. He helped establish and currently sits on the board of directors of G.R.O.W.E.R.S. Inc., a Wallingford non-profit that provides employment and educational opportunities for the intellectually disabled.
Birney resides in Wallingford where he and his wife Paige have raised two children. He is the son of Katherine Birney and the late William H. Birney, Jr., a long time Wallingford police officer and Republican Town Committee member.
Birney’s GOP opponents are familiar with the candidate but pointed to their name recognition and experience as qualities that set them apart.
Farrell had been in the 85th House district race against Democratic state Rep. Mary Mushinsky, but exited the race when he learned of Wright’s retirement from the court. He lost a probate judge race to Wright in 1993. Farrell went on to serve eight terms on the Town Council and as the state’s Commissioner of Consumer Protection and chairman of the Connecticut State Liquor Control Commission under Republican Gov. Jodi Rell.
Farrell said his many years of public service have shown the people of Wallingford that he has the “compassion, caring, and competency” required to be a probate judge.
“I have won election after election in Wallingford, the voters are pretty familiar with me,” Farrell said. “I won eight elections and was the top vote getter in many of those races. I don’t know if the other candidates have run for elected office before, but you have to rally support and absolutely work for it.”
Allinson has a private law practice in town that deals extensively with probate issues and has worked closely with Wright’s court.
“He’s a great guy. Honestly, I don’t know if it will have much impact on my campaign,” Allinson said about Birney entering the race. “I’ve been practicing probate law for almost 15 years now. I have a lot of experience to keep protecting the families of Wallingford so they continue to receive the same protections they have in the past. It’s a tough job. Many people believe it to be a part time job, but I’ve known Judge Wright to spend 30 to 40 hours a week, if not more in court. I would think the party and the people of Wallingford would want somebody experienced in probate law.”
Reporter Mary Ellen Godin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.