Judge Robert A. Martin, former New London mayor and master mediator, dead at 72

Superior Court Judge Robert A. Martin, a New London native who served three terms on the City Council and two terms as the city's mayor, died Tuesday at Yale New Haven Hospital from complications of cancer.

He was 72.

Martin was an outstanding football player at New London High School who proudly hung his gold and green helmet on the wall of his chambers at the Huntington Street courthouse.

Coming of age during the Vietnam War era, Martin pleaded his case as a conscientious objector after drawing a low draft number, and as an alternative to joining the Army, spent two years serving his country on an Indian reservation in Cass Lake, Minn.

On the bench, he was known for his ability to apply common sense to complex situations and had a gift for getting opposing sides to come to an agreement. Attorneys from throughout the state sought him out to mediate their cases, and as recently as last year, when he was semi-retired and working as a judge trial referee, Martin was able to settle five cases in five days. He was the recipient of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association Judiciary Award.

"He was able to look at a case, analyze the case and talk to opposing parties about a way to resolve the case," said his wife, Judge Susan B. Handy.

Martin had three children, Joshua, Luke and Raina, with his first wife, Nancee, and was stepfather to Claire B. Handy. He was delighted to be a grandfather, or "Bob-Bob" to Claire Handy's children, Ava Sue and Delila.

Judges Handy and Martin had been together for 15 years and were married six and a half years ago by their close friend, Judge Antonio C. Robaina. The couple enjoyed traveling together and spending time with their blended family.

"He truly was the love of my life, and he always, always had my back," Judge Handy said by phone Wednesday afternoon.

Martin came from a family of public servants. His father, Thomas G."Tucker" Martin, a mason who later served as the county's high sheriff, and he and Martin's uncle Richard R. Martin both had served as mayor of New London before him.

He was proud of the Italian heritage of his mother, Nicoletta "Nicky" Miceli, was a member of the Sons of Italy, and had traveled to the Florence area with Handy and his lifelong friend attorney Dominic Piacenza.

Piacenza said he and Martin, both born in 1947, grew up together in the Town Hill section of New London. Martin had an older brother, Tommy, and a twin sister, Mary, who was known as "Sissy," Piacenza said. The two men were together in the cafeteria of New London High School when the principal announced on Nov. 22, 1963, that President John F. Kennedy had been shot, Piacenza remembered. They also were together when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Piacenza said.

Both men studied writing and dabbled in poetry, and later were law partners in the firm of Tedeschi, Cushman, Martin & Piacenza, according to Piacenza.

Martin attended the city's Nameaug elementary school and Bulkeley Junior High. He graduated from New London High in 1965. He received a bachelor's degree from Goddard College in Vermont in 1975 and earned his law degree from the Western New England School of Law.

Martin worked as a laborer for five years and worked with handicapped children at the Seaside children's hospital in Waterford.

He served as mayor of New London from 1982 to 1983 and from 1986 to 1987 and was a member of the city's Redevelopment Agency. Though he was once described as a fiscal "tightwad," the city embarked on a number of projects during his tenure, building a new police station, an office park at Shaw's cove, a flood protection barrier, a downtown hotel and renovating three schools, according to Day archives.

In a 1983 interview, Martin spoke with Day reporter Ann Baldelli about his "hippie" days and his decision to register as a conscientious objector.

"Back then, my concerns as a protestor or dissenter were based on a faith I have in the human condition," he said. "That people can help each other — that people are basically good."

Martin was nominated to the state bench in 1991 by outgoing Gov. William A. O'Neill.

Superior Court Judge Steven A. Spellman, then a state senator, said he was proud to speak on Martin's behalf on the Senate floor after his nomination.

"I said, 'He has more common sense than just about anybody I know,'" Spellman remembered during a phone conversation Wednesday.  

"Bobby had a tremendous ability to put people at ease," Spellman said. "He could interact with people from all different walks of life and make you feel welcome. It's just a huge loss for the Judiciary and his family and many of his friends. We all loved him."

Martin was an avid Yankee's fan and a devoted Bob Dylan fan who loved the singer-songwriter so much, "he actually thought he could sing," his friend, Robaina joked during a phone conversation Wednesday.

Judges Martin and Robaina and their spouses often traveled together, and during a trip to New York City, Robaina said he introduced Martin to Barney Greengrass, a legendary Jewish delicatessen. Every time they returned to the city, Martin insisted on going back to the deli for breakfast and splitting an order of chopped liver, which their wives wouldn't touch, Robaina said.

"He enjoyed every day he was alive," Robaina said.

k.florin@theday.com

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