WALLINGFORD — Ending a 30 year career as the local probate judge, Philip A. Wright Jr. has announced that he will be retiring and not be seeking re-election this November.
“Being able to help our children and families navigate some of the most difficult and emotional times in their lives has been an honor that I have always cherished,” Wright, 67, said in an open letter to Wallingford residents. “As much as I hope that I have positively impacted so many of you who have appeared before me, being your Judge of Probate has changed my personal and professional life immeasurably.”
Probate judges preside over cases including child custody, overseeing the execution of estates and conservatorship for those with intellectual disabilities. Wright said that the Wallingford Probate District has the added responsibility of deciding on petitions for involuntary commitments and probable cause hearings related to the psychiatric hospital at Masonicare.
“The things that we do in the probate court kind of necessitate us getting to know and assist people who are really at the worst time of their lives,” he said.
As he nears the mandatory retirement age of 70, Wright said he has decided not to seek re-election so as to allow his successor to come into office with a full term. He would have been able to serve one year and eight months into another four-year term, with the next one beginning in January 2023.
“I believe that it is time for me to step away from the job that I love, and to give others the opportunity to move the probate system forward. Doing so now will give my successor the opportunity to become established by serving a full four years rather than running for a partial term when I reach mandatory retirement age,” he said.
Wright was first elected judge of probate in November 1993 in a competitive race to replace his predecessor, who was retiring. He was re-elected in another competitive race a year later, however he has run unopposed in the following 28 years, which he attributes to his record of making fair and impartial decisions regardless of who is in his courtroom.
“I have steadfastly kept politics out of our Probate Court, and each person who has used our services has been the beneficiary. Although I have always run on the Democratic party line, my relationship with local Republicans and unaffiliated individuals has always been great. Simply put, there can be no partisan consideration for a judge focused on the best interest of our children and families,” he said.
In his first run for judge of probate, Wright was running against Jerry Farrell Jr. while both were employees of a law firm run by Jerry Farrell Sr., who is now the town attorney. Farrell Sr. said they’ve always been friendly and he’s known Wright to be a soft spoken and good guy.
Farrel Sr. said that Wright had a strong reputation among the legal community and throughout Wallingford. He recalled that in a Republican Town Committee meeting prior to his announcement of his retirement, party leaders noted that nobody had any complaints against Wright and there was no intention of running a candidate against him.
Wright was also known for carefully selecting his clerks to be able to provide the best experience for those coming before his court. Probate courts tend to provide more opportunities for petitioners to represent themselves, making experienced clerks especially important.
“He seemed to have made a lot of good choices of who his clerks were. In the probate court having a good staff is very important because they help a lot with the work of the judge,” Farrell Sr. said.
Wright has also served as the Administrative Judge of the Central Connecticut Regional Children’s Probate Court for over a decade and is the immediate past-president of the Connecticut Probate Assembly, a body composed of the 54 probate judges in the state. Over his three decades as a judge, Wright said that he has been active in the professionalization of the probate court system, which was overhauled in 2011 to expand access.
Once his term is complete, he will likely take some time off to get used to not having the busy caseload of the court. He raised the possibility of returning to a private practice — he was an attorney for around 10 years prior to becoming a judge — though nothing’s set in stone.
Mayor William W. Dickinson, Jr. said that Wright has had an excellent reputation in town and his years in the position have brought a wealth of experience to the court.
“He's done excellent service, obviously functioning as a judge he’s talented in what he does and the knowledge he has. And he's been very responsive to the people in town in very difficult circumstances,” Dickinson said.