Perry named supervisor of Norwich public defenders

Richard Perry in a courtroom at the Norwich Superior Court Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018.  Perry has been promoted to supervisor of Norwich's office of public defenders.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Richard Perry in a courtroom at the Norwich Superior Court Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. Perry has been promoted to supervisor of Norwich's office of public defenders. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Norwich — Attorney Richard J. Perry, recently promoted to supervisor of the public defender's office in Superior Court in Norwich, said he loves his job because he gets to meet interesting people every day.

The "funny and smart" people he meets every day happen to be accused of crimes and unable to pay a lawyer.  

"There's a misconception that criminals are not very bright," Perry said during a phone interview. "That's wrong. A lot of them are put in very bad economic positions, when sometimes crime is the only thing they can to do keep afloat. Part of my job is to help them."

Perry, 68, said he plans to continue working in the public defender's office for another two to five years or longer. He doesn't plan any changes in his office in the Geographical Area (GA) 21 courthouse in downtown Norwich, which includes two other attorneys, an investigator and a secretary. He said his predecessor, attorney Alix Walmsley, left the office in good shape. Walmsley was promoted to director of assigned counsel for the Division of Public Defender Services.

Perry was hired in 1994 and earns $148,000 a year, plus benefits, according to public records.

His genial courtroom demeanor — a Day staffer compared him to Mr. Rogers in a 1991 column — and his willingness to defend his clients in front of juries brings respect from co-workers on all sides of criminal cases.

Judge Hillary B. Strackbein, administrative judge for the New London Judicial District, is a member of the Public Defender Services Commission that selected Perry from among three finalists last Tuesday.

"I have worked with Richard Perry on and off for many years," Strackbein said. "He has been totally professional and an excellent advocate for his clients. Attorney Perry will try cases whenever his clients request a trial. Working with attorney Perry has been an absolute pleasure for me. This is a well-deserved promotion."

Perry was the first attorney David J. Smith, supervising prosecutor at the GA 10 courthouse in New London, dealt with when Smith was a state's attorney in 1999. 

"He's a great guy. Very knowledgeable," Smith said. "His trial skills are A1, and I always felt like I had to double down on my preparation when I went up against him. He does a really good job of identifying the weaknesses in the state's cases and bringing it to everybody's attention."

Kevin Barrs, chief public defender at the Judicial District courthouse in New London, said Perry is "an exceptional lawyer, a good trial lawyer and a great guy."

 "I'm very happy for him," Barrs said. "This is well-deserved."

Perry said his family has had a direct connection with Norwich for more than 100 years, when his maternal grandparents bought an old farm. He lives on a portion of that farm today, on Wawecus Hill Road, where he and his partner, Judith Zimmer, have two Morgan horses on their farm and in 2015 had a covered bridge constructed by "the last covered bridge builder in America." Perry invited 250 people to the farm to watch a pair of oxen pull the bridge into place over a pond. He dressed as a 19th-century bridge designer, topping his outfit with a stovepipe hat. 

He graduated from Norwich Free Academy in 1967 and went on to the University of Connecticut, where he received an undergraduate degree and a master's degree in public administration. He worked for the Mansfield Police Department for three years, as a drug counselor for the Department of Correction and as assistant director for jury administration in Hartford. At the time, the state was switching from a system where jurors called to duty served for 30 days as opposed to the current system, where they are called for a day or the duration of one trial, if selected to serve. Working with lawyers and judges inspired him to go to law school, and he went to Western New England Law School.

Perry went into private practice and contracted with the state as a special public defender. In 1994, the supervisor of public defenders at GA10 in New London, Thomas Haley, asked him to apply to become an in-house public defender. Perry said he was also offered a state's attorney's job around the same time, but felt a greater attraction for working with the public defenders.

k.florin@theday.com

Richard Perry at work in his office at the Norwich Superior Court Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018.  Perry has been promoted to supervisor of Norwich's office of public defenders.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Richard Perry at work in his office at the Norwich Superior Court Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. Perry has been promoted to supervisor of Norwich's office of public defenders. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

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