DePanfilis runs same, classic campaign

Republican Anthony DePanfilis, judge of the Norwalk/Wilton Probate District Court, is up against Democratic opponent Darnell Crosland this election year for a seat he’s held for 17 continuous years.

“I’ve had opponents in the past, but not for the last 12 years,” said Judge DePanfilis, a lifelong Norwalk resident.

“When I first ran in ’97, I had a primary opponent and a Democratic opponent. I was unopposed in ’98, and then 12 years ago, attorney Mike Coffey ran against me.”

Although it’s been a while since he’s had an opponent vying for his seat, Mr. DePanfilis said, he and his campaign committee are prepared for the upcoming election.

“I’ve been fortunate to have my 90-year-old dad, my wife of 43 years, and my brother Ralph, who’s my best friend and a CPA [certified public accountant], as the core of my campaign committee,” said Mr. DePanfilis.

“We have the machinery in place — it’s just a little rusty, but it works fine, and I think we’re accomplishing everything we wanted to accomplish.”

No matter who the opponent is, said Mr. DePanfilis, he and his campaign committee run the same campaign.

“We do the best we can, regardless of who the opponent is,” he said, “and it’s worked for 17 years.”

Mr. DePanfilis said contested campaigns are a good way to inform and remind people about what the probate court does.

“It gives me the opportunity to sort of re-inform the citizens of Norwalk and Wilton that we’re there — we’re there for them — and let them know how many things we do as their probate court,” he said.

The court

The Norwalk/Wilton Probate Court has been the sixth largest in the state, said Mr. DePanfilis, even before Connecticut’s 117 probate courts were consolidated down to 54 in 2011.

“Our court is not only the sixth largest, but I believe it is also the most diverse court in the state, and one of the most efficient and professional,” said Mr. DePanfilis.

“By diverse, I mean — my towns are Norwalk and Wilton — we represent the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor, so we have a tremendous diversity as far as the needs of the public.”

Mr. DePanfilis said a large part of the court’s human resources goes to “helping the people that don’t have anybody else to help them.”

“My staff really goes above and beyond trying to help those people who really can’t help themselves and need the help the most,” said Mr. DePanfilis, recipient of the state of Connecticut Department of Children and Families Award.

“I have a tremendous staff, and that’s what makes the court. It’s a large part of why the court is as good as it is.”

Mr. DePanfilis said most of his staff members have been with him for the majority of his term, with “little to no turnover.”

While he loves being probate judge for three reasons — meeting people, learning something new, and helping somebody every day — the hardest part is “biting your tongue for eight hours,” Mr. DePanfilis said with a laugh.

“I think that’s true for all of us judges,” he said. “Every case is a new challenge, and the hard part is trying to make sure you do the best you can for every single case.”

Mr. DePanfilis has had a number of accomplishments during his tenure as Wilton and Norwalk’s probate judge, including initiating the renaming of the “Norwalk Probate Court” to the “Norwalk/Wilton Probate District Court” and instituting a streamlined process in the court that has increased its efficiency and made it more user-friendly.

With his accomplishments, Mr. DePanfilis has also faced some challenges.

“In 2011, the Probate Administration took a position … dictating to all the courts the number of staff members you can have and what you can pay them,” said Mr. DePanfilis.

“Many were grandfathered in, but basically, I think the real challenge is we need more staff members in our court and the state just does not allow us to do that additional hiring.”

In 1997, Mr. DePanfilis said, he had nine full-time clerks. Now he is down by one and a half staff members from when, he said, “I felt we had the most efficient court.”

“The way we make that up is the ladies who work for me, they put in overtime without getting paid so we have no backlog,” said Mr. DePanfilis.

“It is a strain on my staff members to the extent that we’re working one and a half short and we can’t fill that slot.”

Family

Other than his being probate judge of their district, some citizens may not know that Mr. DePanfilis is a family-oriented man who comes from a close Italian family.

“I was born and raised in South Norwalk and I’m the oldest of seven children,” he said. “Six of the seven of us, and 14 of my parents’ 15 grandchildren, all live within an eight-mile radius of my parents’ house.”

In his youth, Mr. DePanfilis attended St. Joseph’s School in Norwalk and played sports in town, he said.

Mr. DePanfilis and his wife, the former Kathleen Kelly, have four children — Tony Jr., Adam, Jeffrey, and Kelly Anne.

“The furthest away is 18 minutes, and that’s our son who’s a member of the Norwalk Police Department,” said Mr. DePanfilis.

“We have another son who’s in finance, we have a son who’s a chiropractic physician who practices right here in Norwalk, and our daughter is an oncology nurse at Norwalk Hospital.”

Mr. DePanfilis said he has been “very fortunate” to have his family living so close by, and also to be the grandfather of three grandchildren, with a fourth expected to be born around Thanksgiving.

With regard to the upcoming Nov. 4 election, Mr. DePanfilis said he encourages everybody to “come out and vote.”

“I think that’s the most important in every election,” he said, “for people to just come out and make an educated vote.”