Fred J. Anthony was probably destined to become a police officer or lawyer, based on his family background and interests as a youngster.
Anthony was always intrigued with the law, growing up as the son of a longtime Shelton police officer. And he was impressed with the fictional Perry Mason of book, TV and film fame.
So he chose to become an attorney, attending the Villanova University School of Law.
Five years after graduation, in 1994, Anthony was elected as Shelton’s probate judge, a position he still holds today.
“I love my job,” he said. “There are so many aspects to it for someone with a fascination with the law.
“It’s a great way to be involved with the law,” Anthony said, “and to serve and help the community at the same time.”
Shelton High School graduate
Anthony, 49, grew up in Shelton and graduated from Shelton High in 1982. He was a good student who also had a fondness for sports and cars.
In fact, his father — the late police Lt. George Anthony — taught him quite a bit about cars when he was younger.
“I learned a lot about cars from holding the light for my dad,” he said of when his father would work on vehicles. “You can learn a lot from holding the light.”
His mother, who is still alive, worked as a secretary for an insurance firm.
Anthony likes to attend his high school reunions. “You can take the boy out of the Valley but you can’t take the Valley out of the boy,” he said.
He has seen his hometown grow a lot through the years. “It’s experienced positive, controlled growth,” Anthony said of how Shelton has changed. “It’s still a wonderful place to live and raise a family.”
He described the city as “a very community-minded” place, and said this makes his job easier.
“People like to come in and see a familiar face,” Anthony said. “I see a lot of my classmates now because their parents are passing.”
Many issues to contend with
The probate court deals with decedents’ estates, conservatorships for adults, custody matters for children, guardianships, trusts, and adoptions.
“People usually come to the probate court at the worst time of their lives,” Anthony said. “They can be emotional, and we’re sensitive to that.”
Dealing with child-related matters can be extremely time-consuming for a probate judge. This can involve taking steps to protect abused and neglected youngsters — an issue that Anthony noted impacts all communities, no matter how rich or poor.
He visits the Shelton Senior Center a few times a year to discuss probate issues. “I go over the myths of probate court,” he said.
Anthony recommends that people have a will. “My role is to make sure your wishes are followed,” he said.
He said about half the people who die in Shelton have wills.
System reforms passed a few years ago
In 2010, the state reformed the probate court system. The number of probate courts was consolidated from 117 to 54, with many small towns being grouped together to improve efficiency and lower costs.
Nothing changed for Shelton, which as a small city had sufficient population to remain on its own.
As president judge of the Connecticut Probate Assembly — the state organization for all probate judges — at the time, Anthony successfully opposed the idea of merging the probate court system into the Superior Court.
He said the manageable size of Connecticut’s probate courts make them better suited to deal with people than would a larger court system.
“We can address these matters in a sensitive and individual way,” Anthony said.
If someone doesn’t think they have been treated fairly by the local probate judge, he said, the person can request that a probate judge from another town get involved in the case.
Leadership role in national organization
Anthony now serves as president-elect of the National College of Probate Judges. He’s been involved with the organization since the mid-1990s.
The group meets twice yearly to discuss probate law issues. He will begin his one-year term as president this November.
“It will be an opportunity to set the course and direction of the organization,” Anthony said.
In addition to being probate judge, Anthony has his own private law practice, Anthony & Reale, which he operates with law partner Matthew C. Reale. The two met when they attended law school together.
Anthony is married with three children — two teenage daughters and a 3-month-old son.
In his free time, he’s an avid Providence College basketball fan and likes to go boating on Lake Housatonic, where he lives.
A building with history
The Shelton probate court operates out of a building on White Street downtown, near Coram Avenue.
It’s a structure with a lot of history because it once was Shelton City Hall, and Anthony’s office had been used by past mayors.
The office offers unique wood paneling as well as a fireplace that reflects the era when it was built. The structure originally was built for a doctor in the late 1800s to be a combined home and office.
The city’s probate court has moved around through the years. It had been at Perry Hill School before that building was refurbished into a school again.
The probate court includes a large vault containing probate records dating back to the 1800s, when the town of Huntington actually predated the city of Shelton. Records now are stored electronically, although historical documents remain intact.
The Shelton probate court has two full-time and two part-time staff members, who are considered state employees.