From collections to class-action cases, Reardon reflects on 50 years of lawyering

New London — Attorney Robert I. Reardon Jr., whose personal injury law firm has long been associated with exhaustive trial preparation and six-figure settlements, was recognized by the New London County Bar Association earlier this month for 50 years of legal practice.

Working out of an impeccably maintained Tudor-style home at the corner of Hempstead and Broad streets, Reardon has taken on cases of local and international import. He secured settlements for the families of two East Lyme teenagers who died in 1988 after their car plunged into a river due to missing bridge barriers on Chapel Street in New Haven. He was a lead attorney in class-action lawsuits involving a defective contraceptive device known as the Dalkon Shield and in litigation brought by consumers of Nutrisystem, a drink that dieters said damaged their gallbladders.

Reardon and his firm negotiated more than $8.1 million in settlements for victims of abuse by Catholic priests. He represented Connecticut victims and survivors of the Station Nightclub fire of 2003, in which 100 died and more than 200 were injured when a pyrotechnics display during a Great White concert ignited sound-proofing material inside the West Warwick, R.I., nightclub.

Reardon even represented Donald J. Trump in 2003, when Trump, then a casino financier, was fired by the Eastern Pequots as the tribe sought federal recognition. The case was resolved with an undisclosed settlement; in 2016, during Trump's Republican presidential campaign, Reardon, who is a registered Democrat, declined to comment on it.

Reardon said by phone this past week that he was spending a few days in Manhattan, having just resolved a case with a confidential settlement agreement. These days, he said, he has the benefit of not dealing with the responsibilities of firm management, since his daughter, attorney Kelly E. Reardon, became managing partner in January 2019 and the firm's attorneys and staff are highly experienced.

Reardon said he now has the luxury of picking and choosing the cases he wants to try.

He was raised in Waterford but has lived in Niantic for decades with his wife, Lise Reardon, who is the founder and executive director of Eastern Connecticut Ballet. They have two adult daughters, Kelly and Colleen Shay, and two grandchildren.

Reardon attended Boston College and Fordham Law School, then honed his legal skills while serving in the U.S. Marine Judge Advocate General's Corps at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune from 1971 to 1973.

Reardon said he never regretted returning to New London to practice law. "It's been a great career, and a great life in New London," he said.

At the Feb. 4 bar association celebration at Langley's in Waterford, Reardon said he thanked a number of people involved in his career. After law school, while awaiting his departure to Camp Lejeune, Reardon said the late attorney A.A. "Ted" Washton allowed him to handle cases even before he was sworn in.

He also thanked attorney Wayne Tillinghast, who was opposing counsel in the first pretrial negotiation Reardon attended as a lawyer. When Reardon followed his boss's orders and demanded a $50,000 settlement in a case that he now knows was worth no more than $5,000, the judge yelled at him and threw him out his chambers.

"When I got into the hallway, I was so distressed," Reardon recalled. "I'd never been in front of a judge. Wayne told me sometimes that's just the way judges act."

Tillinghast, who passed his own 50-year practice milestone years ago, and retired four years ago at age 80, remembered the incident when reached by phone Friday.

"The judge just jumped all over him left and right," Tillinghast said. The real target of the judge's ire was Washton, he said.

Following his Marine service, Reardon said he was hired in November 1974 by the New London law firm McGuire and Shapiro, and told by his boss, attorney Morgan K. McGuire, to start working after the first of the year. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, McGuire died of a heart attack on the way to the court, and Reardon said he wondered if he had a job. The firm's other partner, Michael Shapiro, told Reardon he would be handling all of McGuire's files and that the firm would be called Shapiro and Reardon.

Kelly Reardon introduced her father at the Feb. 4 bar association event. She said he can still outwork her, and that his tirelessness is the secret to his success.

"He's taught me you have to work your opponent," she said in a recent phone interview. "That the number one way to achieve success is to work harder than the lawyer you're up against, preparing more, spending more time to get ready for depositions and trial and knowing more than the person you're taking the deposition of."

At the event, Kelly Reardon said she recounted that her father has not always had the opportunity to pick and choose cases. She noted that in his early years, he represented The Day in collections cases when its newspaper delivery staff failed to turn in subscriber payments.

Also recognized by the New London Country Bar Association for 50 years of lawyering was attorney Peter F. Stuart of Mystic, whose practice most recently has focused on elder law and estate planning. Stuart did not respond to several phone messages left at his office.

k.florin@theday.com

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