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Kepple, Ritacco face off in regional probate court judge race

Editor's note: This corrects an earlier version which incorrectly reported the nature of Salvatore Ritacco's guardian ad litem work and the audience for his educational initiatives.   

Stonington — Democrat Nicholas F. Kepple of Stonington, the current Southeastern Connecticut Regional Probate Court judge, faces a challenge from Republican attorney Salvatore Ritacco of Pawcatuck in the November election.

The court handles probate issues for the people of Groton, Ledyard, Stonington and North Stonington.

Kepple defeated Republican Eric Janney in a 2011 special election to fill the vacancy created by the death of Judge Frederick W. Palm Jr. and was re-elected in 2014. Kepple has been in charge of the court since shortly after the four towns created the consolidated court.

Kepple, who has been an attorney for the past 30 years, said he has “thoroughly enjoyed” his time as probate judge.

"I have a lot of life experience I bring to the court. I’ve handled over 5,000 matters over the past seven years and dealt with a lot of complicated cases so I have a lot of experience to offer people in the four towns,” he said, when asked why voters should support him. “I love what I do. I hope to continue to serve the people in the four towns.”

Kepple said that with the consolidation of the courts from each town, he implemented revamped rules and procedures. He also works in the regional children’s court, where he deals with issues such as termination of parental rights and guardianship.

He said he is blessed to have the help of five clerks who have 60 years of experience. He said the busy court handles 800 cases a year and annual state audits have shown that cases are finalized in a timely manner.

Kepple said the thing he is most proud of is the four-part series of talks held in six libraries in the four towns, in which attorneys explained probate and estate planning issues for the public. Kepple said the program, which was presented in conjunction with the New London County Estate and Tax Planning Council, attracted standing-room-only crowds.

“People loved it. It was a huge success,” he said about the two-year effort.

Kepple, who served as Stonington first selectman from 1987-89, also works part-time at his own law practice.

Ritacco has been an attorney for the past 10 years, is active in the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce and downtown Pawcatuck revitalization issues. Ritacco said he had been encouraged to run by the late Paul Cravinho, who served for many years as the Stonington probate judge before the town merged to form the regional court.

“He said ‘you would be good. You have the personality and the experience,'” Ritacco recalled, adding he hopes to continue Cravinho’s legacy as a probate judge.

Ritacco said he has done a great deal of guardian ad litem work in which he represents children and the elderly involved in criminal court cases. 

“I like working with DCF (Department of Children and Families), going through the reports,” Ritacco said, adding he has been working with other attorneys to handle more and more complicated probate courses in recent years.

Ritacco said he would spend 35 hours a week in the court, as he will be putting his own law practice “on the back burner,” if elected. He said he has brought in two attorneys to take on his cases if he is elected.

If elected, he said he would like to help educate the general public about what to look out for when it comes to probate issues.

Ritacco said he also would look to hold more informal status conferences to make sure cases are moving forward smoothly. He said he also would seek suggestions from court clerks about how to improve operations.

“I have the integrity and experience to learn the position well and be there for a number of years,” he said.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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