Caruso rolls to another big win as Fairfield probate judge
Published 3:36 pm, Thursday, November 4, 2010
Fairfield Probate Judge Dan Caruso must be doing something right. Elected in 1995, he has won re-election every four years since then, and Tuesday, he was returned to office with a huge margin of victory over his Democratic challenger.
"I'm very grateful to the people of the town for choosing me again to help all our neighbors," he said Wednesday afternoon. Caruso, a Republican who was a state representative before being elected probate judge, also made sure to thank his four clerks, "who do such a great job."
Democrat Pamela Jones, Caruso's opponent, was seeking to become the first woman elected to be probate judge in Fairfield. An admitted unknown on the local political scene, Jones, a lawyer currently working as outside counsel to the A&E Network, worked hard to connect with voters. She said she had very little money for her campaign so she "had to work." Among other things, she organized phone banking, canvassed neighborhoods, called town residents one-by-one asking if she could put a campaign sign on their lawn and then she posted them one-by-one. In addition, Jones had to find all the resources for getting materials printed. She did a lot of the work herself, but also had a core group of helpers including Democratic Town Chairman Devon Pfeiffer, Jen Hochberg, Mike Tetreau, Rich Jacobs, Marilyn Miller, Beth Bradley, Matt Waggner and Doreen Birdsell.
In the end, however, Jones' work was no match for Caruso's experience and name recognition, as she received 7,000 votes to the Republican's 13,022.
"Seven thousand Fairfield residents decided that they could trust me. I'm really, really pleased," she said. Doing the math, Jones said she spent under 50 cents a vote.
Asked why she ran against a long-standing incumbent when she was little known by the town voters, Jones responded, "It takes two candidates to make a race and I wanted Fairfielders to have a choice," she said.
She said the best part of the process meeting what she called her "neighbors." Jones didn't meet all 57,000 of them, but she did meet "as many as I could."
Jones said the probate judge race is often overlooked. In fact, many voters she met did not know what the probate court is or what it does. However, it is an important position.
A probate judge, according to Caruso, hears cases involving children, the mentally ill and the elderly, in addition to estates, trust funds and conservatorships. Often, when an elderly person, for example, can no longer care for themselves, a probate judge will assign a conservator. In cases where there is no relative who can be a conservator, Caruso can usually find a member of the legal community within town who is willing to assist pro bono.
Caruso also often hears disputes in regards to wills -- whether they're valid or not, who gets what under them (some family members even fight over a single photo), was it signed correctly, was the person competent as the time ethey executed the will?
Most of the time, people are civil.
"There's a saying that five percent of the people cause 95 percent of the problems," he said. "People get very emotional, but my job is to make sure the person I'm in charge of is cared for." Caruso works with everyone from police to Protective Services for the Elderly.
He loves what he does.
"I wouldn't mind doing this for the rest of my life," he said, prior to realizing he should have provided a different statement, as he and other probate judges in the state must retire at age 70. Asked what he might do when he has to pack it in, Caruso couldn't venture a guess.
"I don't even know what I'm having for dinner tonight," he said.