Democrat Elizabeth Ladwig Leamon of Stonington is running against Republican Salvatore Ritacco of Pawcatuck in the race for judge of the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Probate District.
The court serves Stonington, North Stonington, Groton and Ledyard. The winner will replace Democrat Nick Kepple of Stonington, who is retiring.
Both candidates said they would be in court full time but maintain their private practices.
Convergence of passion and profession
Leamon, 53, grew up in Mystic and is the managing partner of Leckerling Ladwig & Leamon LLC in Madison and Pawcatuck. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Connecticut College, a master’s degree from New York University and her law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law.
She said she has practiced exclusively in the area of probate and estate law for the past 12 years. She estimates she has made more than 800 appearances in 26 of the probate courts across the state.
She said she chose to practice on probate and estate law because she said it is where she felt she could best impact individuals and families.
“The one thing I love about my job is helping families,” she said.
Leamon called probate the convergence of her passion for volunteering with organizations to help women, families and children and her professional life. She, like Ritacco, has worked as a court-appointed guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of children and teens in court proceedings.
“I’m able to bring my passion and profession together to help people navigate a difficult time,” she said.
She serves on the Stonington Housing Authority and the Stonington Free Library board and, having grown up in the area and lived in most of the communities in the district, she said she understands the needs of people here.
“This is a job I honestly feel was made for me,” she said.
Leamon said the job of the probate judge is to listen to people and let them know they are being heard, adding a judge has to demonstrate compassion, patience, fairness and knowledge.
“But at the end of the day you are the judge, so you have to have a decisive nature. You can’t be wishy-washy,” she said.
She said she would like to get out and talk to people about what the probate court does, especially health care professionals who are often the first ones to notice a person may need the services of a probate court. She said the use of virtual hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic have been helpful in saving clients time and money and she said she would like to continue to give people the option of a virtual hearing.
Ritacco touts his ability to resolve cases
Ritacco, 40, a lifelong Pawcatuck resident, attended Providence College before transferring to the University of Connecticut, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree. He then earned his law degree from the Thomas M. Cooley School Law School at Western Michigan University in Lansing, Mich.
During his time in college and law school, Ritacco worked at two law firms in the area, which he said gave him valuable experience. He also served eight years as a guardian ad litum. Since 2008 he has run his own law firm in Pawcatuck, where he practices in all areas of the law. He said about 15% to 50% of his cases involve probate issues, depending on the time.
He is a board member of the Ocean Community and Greater Mystic chambers of commerce, the latter of which he chairs its government affairs committee. He is also a board member of the Estate and Tax Planning Council of Eastern Connecticut and a chamber delegate to the Stonington Economic Development Commission, where he is especially active in its effort to revitalize downtown Pawcatuck.
Ritacco said that as an attorney he has effectively helped resolve hundreds of complicated cases in all areas of law, including probate, short of trial by working with clients and opposing attorneys. He said this has resulted in settling cases at a fraction of what it would cost to go to trial.
“It takes great fortitude to do that,” he said, adding he would bring that skill to the job of probate judge. “I’ve made a promise that I’ll be there full time to help attorneys and their clients work towards a solution.”
Ritacco said he is running for probate judge because he wants to help families during emotional and stressful times. “This is my way of giving back to the community,” he said.
Ritacco also described how through most of his life he has worked multiple jobs at the same time while going to school, especially after graduating from law school and facing a “monster debt.”
He said that as a child of Italian immigrants, he did not learn English until he was 6 years old and in school.
In an effort to help streamline the probate courts and help people avoid the cost, stress and time of complicated cases that he calls tragedies, Ritacco said if elected he would hold forums in which attorneys would discuss the difficult cases they have had in an effort to inform people how to avoid those situations through proper planning.
Ritacco said videos of those forums could be shown at senior center and senior living facilities and made available on YouTube as “preventive maintenance.”