Editor's note: This is the second installment of a three-part series profiling East Haven's local candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Of all the cases Probate Judge Mike Albis has worked on, one is forever etched into his mind.
A 15-year-old girl whose parents had died was living with relatives, where she was being physically and verbally abused. Her uncle wanted custody of the child and brought her to Albis, who granted the uncle's wish. A few years later, Albis said he bumped into the girl. She had graduated high school and "was doing well," he said.
It's exactly that stuff that Albis said he'd sorely miss if he should lose his judgeship this November. The East Haven Democrat is in a friendly but unfortunate race for judge of a newly created probate court that will combine East Haven's with North Haven's. He's gotta beat his friend from North Haven, Republican Probate Judge Mike Brandt. Both men want to keep their jobs but neither likes what they have to do to win. And only one can win.
As a cost-saver, the state has consolidated the current 117 probate courts into 54, to take effect January 2011. Regardless of who the victor is Nov. 2, Albis or Brandt, the merged office will be stationed in the current East Haven court on the lower level of Town Hall; North Haven footed the bill for furnishings.
"I respect and admire him and I enjoy his company," Brandt said of Albis. "We're professional friends. If I were to pick someone to run against, it wouldn't be Mike Albis. Not because I think he's going to win," he said with a hesitant laugh.
Brandt was talking about his dilemma the other day in enemy territory -- the East Haven Village Diner. Chewing on a grilled chicken sandwich and sipping a Diet Coke with lemon slices, he said he'd just come from speaking to his 10-year-old daughter's class about his judge job.
"I'm not competitive," Brandt said.
Albis said the same thing a few days later from his Edward Street law office. That's the office in which his late father had his pediatric practice. The building shares the same property with the judge's childhood home, where his mother still lives.
"The plus side (of running against each other) is we know the other won't do any dirty campaigning. But it's awkward. We both want the same thing and only one of us can have it," said Albis, who's going for his fourth four-year term. This is the first time he's got competition.
Ditto for Brandt. He's also never had an opponent in his two terms.
Friends they may be, but both men are clearly going for the win. Brandt has 750 lawns signs, with an unspecified number in East Haven soil. Albis has 400 to 500 campaign signs, also with an unstated number on North Haven lawns.
As Albis talked about the nice fight, his voice trailed off, his head lowered. Asked if he was sad about the race, he said, "I wouldn't say sad. I'm apprehensive. It would be a loss, but I'm not planning to lose. The uncertainty is difficult.
"When you're talking about it, it's a constant reminder" that only one will make it to the finish line, said the East Haven probate judge.