Convening in the large meeting room in Ridgefield Town Hall, Democrats from Ridgefield, Bethel, Newtown and Redding on Wednesday evening, May 18, unanimously nominated highly regarded attorney Sharon Wicks Dornfeld as Democratic candidate for Judge of Probate for District 45 (Northern Fairfield County), which covers those four towns. Ms. Dornfeld and her family have resided in Ridgefield continuously since 1984, and lived in both Redding and Ridgefield prior to that date.
Ms. Dornfeld’s broad and impressive resume makes her an outstanding candidate to succeed outgoing Judge Joseph Egan, who is retiring just before the November election. Ms. Dornfeld has extensive experience in general civil litigation in both Superior Court and Probate Court. An attorney in private practice, and a sole practitioner since 1988, Ms. Dornfeld has expertise in the full range of matters that fall under purview of the Judge of Probate. In the Probate Court, Ms. Dornfeld has represented children in guardianship and adoption matters, served as Conservator and settled estates. In the Superior Court, her practice largely consists of representing minor children in high-conflict custody and visitation disputes, neglect and abuse matters in the Juvenile Court, and as victims in criminal court. She also maintains a small general office practice, including real estate transactions, drafting of wills, mediation and Parenting Coordination. Additionally, since 1991, Ms. Dornfeld has served the City of Danbury as an Assistant Corporation Counsel.
Ms. Dornfeld’s name was placed into nomination by prominent area attorney Robert Opotzner, a Ridgefield resident, former Ridgefield Board of Education member, former Shelton Board of Education member, and former chair of the Ridgefield Charter Reform Committee. In nominating Ms. Dornfeld, Mr. Opotzner praised retiring Judge Egan, and affirmed that Ms. Dornfeld will be an outstanding successor who will continue the conscientious work of the office. Mr. Opotzner specifically cited Ms. Dornfeld’s “judicial demeanor” and ability to confidently and fairly manage court processes, especially in those “10%-15% of matters” that present highly emotional or complex challenges, and that require careful listening and consideration of all sides. The nomination was seconded by well-known Danbury attorney Robin Kahn, who echoed Mr. Opotzner’s enthusiasm and praise for Ms. Dornfeld.
In her remarks accepting the nomination, Ms. Dornfeld related how she first became involved in probate court matters as a substitute litigator for another attorney, and how after such appearances, “Probate judges began asking to appoint me to represent children in guardianship and termination matters, and to serve as conservator for very elderly folks who had no one else to care for them. Some of those children’s matters ended up being appealed, and Juvenile judges started appointing me to represent kids in neglect and abuse cases, and then Family Court judges started appointing me to represent kids in custody cases. One thing led to another.”
Regarding the work of the Probate Judge, Ms. Dornfeld said, “Everybody knows that Probate Courts administer estates when someone dies. What many people don’t realize is that a large percentage of Probate Court business involves kids, the elderly, and the disabled. If you know a grandparent raising grandchildren, they have been to Probate Court. Very elderly or disabled persons who are unable to care for themselves or have been taken advantage of end up in Probate Court. Every adoption in Connecticut takes place in a Probate Court. Parents of intellectually disabled kids will go to Probate Court as their children reach 18, so they can continue to make arrangements for their medical care and living situations. People who are mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others, but refuse help, end up in Probate Court. Thats the type of work I have done in practice, and I hope to apply my expertise for the benefit of the citizens of the Northern Fairfield District as judge.”
Though the Probate Court for the 45th District is based in Bethel, CT, Ms. Dornfeld explained, “If elected, it would be my hope to regularly spend time in each of the four towns and be as available as possible. Going to court is a scary thing for anybody, and particularly so when recently bereaved, frantic with worry about a loved one, or frightened about the future. The least we can do is provide a familiar face and a kind, helpful atmosphere.”
Ms. Dornfeld concluded her remarks by noting, “There really isn’t a Republican or Democrat way to be a judge. … I really don’t think it matters what party you are. I think your experience, your compassion and your judgment are really what’s called for to be a good judge, and I agree with Bob that [outgoing Probate Judge] Joe Egan is a wonderful judge. I am proud to be a Democrat, I am proud to be your candidate, and I promise to work my hardest to win, and if elected to be a judge of whom you can be proud. Thank you very much.”