Probate judge race was a tough fight to the end - Top story of 2010
As part of state effort to streamline and lower the operating costs of the probate courts, Darien and New Canaan were asked to merge their courts. At the same time, the current probate judges were retiring and a new one had yet to be selected. Both towns eventually endorsed their own candidate for the position before a third challenger petitioned his way onto the ballot.
The process for choosing a candidate for probate judge began in May when Republicans from both Darien and New Canaan gathered to officially endorse a candidate for judge of the towns' newly merged probate court. After more than three hours of debate, the 20 delegates failed to endorse an official candidate for the position.
Darien delegates nominated John Ryan and New Canaan delegates nominated Bill Ostendorf. Each town committed all 10 of its delegates to its own candidate three separate times before the voting was called to an end.
The 10-10 tie meant neither candidate received official endorsement.
"Both John Ryan and Bill Osterndorf received Certifications of Eligibility to appear on the Aug. 10 primary ballot since they each received 50 percent of the vote of the convention delegates present and voting," said Darien's Republican Town Committee Chairman Harry Artinian, who also served as the committee's temporary chairman.
For a short period of time it appeared that the next probate judge would either me from Darien or New Canaan. However, Darien resident Mike Murray, who works in New Canaan, had managed to acquire enough signatures to petition his way onto the August primary ballot. When Murray went to Hartford on May 25, he was told he would need to collect 616 signatures between the two towns by Tuesday, June 8. He collected more than 700 all together.
Murray eventually defeated both Osterndorf and Ryan in an extremely close race in August. As Murray relaxed and prepared for the November elections, a decision had to still be made for the location of the probate court.
The decision to locate the new consolidated probate court in Darien was announced in early September.
First Selectman Jeb Walker was pleased with the decision because he said Darien has a much better facility. When asked about travel concerns, Walker acknowledged there would be a few residents who might complain, but asked, "How often do you have to go to the probate court?"
The court merger will begin after the election, Walker said.
"[Darien First Selectman David Campbell] and I will work with that individual throughout the process," Walker said.
Initially, there had been talk of merging New Canaan and Darien with other towns, Walker said. However, he said he fought with the legislature to make sure the probate court stayed in either Darien or New Canaan.
"Overall, I'm very comfortable with the approach to locate the court in Darien."
At the same time the announcement was made for the location of the court, a new challenger, Chris McClancy, emerged to face off against Murray in November. Darien resident Chris McClancy filed a petition in June after acquiring 156 signatures to be placed on the November ballot.
McClancy did not have a party designation, according to his petition documents.
Both candidates were eager to see how the November elections played out, but it quickly became apparent that Murray had far more support.
Murray received a total of 11,546 between the two towns, while McClancy, a Darien resident, received a total of 947 votes.
Murray said he believed his knowledge of probate work and his experience maintaining his firm's satellite office, made him an ideal candidate.
"My workload involves about 25 to 30 percent probate work," Murray said. "I also have to make daily personnel decisions as I manage the satellite office for my firm."
Murray acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges facing the new Judge of Probate is the merger itself.
"The challenge is finding a way to bring two staffs together," Murray said. "Because I'm used to making daily personnel decisions, merging the two courts will be very similar."
Murray will assume his position as probate judge in January.