The 81-year old man in a suit confronted photogenic NewAlliance bank president Peyton Patterson, who had just won stock options worth $27 million in a rich bank merger.

Anthony DeMayo was speaking at the April 2006 stockholders meeting. “Our bank — or your bank, if that’s how you want to look at it — is the worst performing bank in the state,” DeMayo fumed. “I am not proud of that.”

The judge went on to say that by paying rates of only 0.55 percent on Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts rate, the state’s third-largest bank was well below other banks. And the IOLTA interest rate was far under the 1.5 to 2 percent that the bank then paid to other depositors. The IOLTA account money is used to fund legal services to Connecticut’s poor — a cause dear to DeMayo’s heart.

“He went to that meeting, stood up in front of hundreds of people, and just lambasted them. It was wonderful,” said Sandra Klebanoff, executive director of the Connecticut Bar Foundation, which distributes the IOLTA funds to legal aid organzations. “That’s just the kind of feisty guy he was.”

DeMayo passed away last week at age 88, having served a a lawyer since 1951 and as a Superior Court judge, and then a judge trial referee since 1981. Raised in East Haven, educated at Yale and the University of Connecticut School of Law, DeMayo was repeatedly recognized by his fellow lawyers and judges. This past June, the Connecticut Bar Association officially renamed its Pro Bono Award; it’s now called The Honorable Anthony V. DeMayo Pro Bono Award.

DeMayo previously received from the CBA the Charles J. Parker Legal Services Award in 1992 and the John Eldred Shields Distinguished Professional Service Award in 1986.

As a judge, he was known to be both forthright and personable. “I didn’t always agree with some of his decisions, but he was always a gentleman and a good guy,” said New Haven defense lawyer Hugh Keefe. “He had no pretense as a judge.”

Commenting on the Legacy.com web site, Superior Court Judge Gerard Adelman wrote that, as a lawyer, “I appeared before Judge DeMayo many times. He was always kind to counsel and fair to both sides. Since I went on the bench, he has always been one of my role models for excellent judicial behavior.”

Noting his death, the CBA web site stated that DeMayo “was known for his selfless dedication, boundless energy and talent, and commitment to ensuring the availability and delivery of legal services to all.”

DeMayo left his mark on the state’s legal community well before he was appointed to the bench. Early in his career, DeMayo was a partner in a small New Haven law firm. In 1966, he also became New Haven’s public defender, a job that allowed him to hire special public defenders. In that role, he was responsible for hiring Connecticut’s first female and its first African-American public defenders.

In the late 1960s, he also hired Keefe, now a partner at Lynch, Traub, Keefe & Errante, and one of Connecticut’s top defense attorneys.

“It was a great opportunity,” Keefe said last week. “I tried my first murder case with Tony. We had two co-defendants, the Osborne brothers, who were accused of robbing and killing a nightclub owner in New Haven. I had Tyrone, he had Reginald Osborne. The trial went two months, and the jury acquitted both of them. I got to know Tony very well. He was a terrific guy, a terrific lawyer, and never forgot where he came from.”

In 1969, DeMayo was president of the CBA, and played an important role in preserving individual voir dire during the jury selection precess. Though the situtation seems improbable today, in the late 1960s and early 1970s court dockets were backlogged with defendants seeking 12-person jury trials to avoid 30-day license suspensions for speeding.

“A lot more speeding cases were tried – now they’re never tried,” Keefe recalled. “We represented a lot of trucking companies — and truck drivers needed their license to make a living. We tried a ton of speeding cases to 12-person juries. The docket backlog got huge.”

As a result, the Judicial Branch wanted to reduce the 12-person jury to a six-person jury for almost all cases. Court officials also wanted to do away with individual voir dire. Negotiating with the Judicial Branch on behalf of the bar, DeMayo agreed to six-person juries for most cases, but pressed for the continuation of the state’s tradition of lawyers questioning each potential member of a jury outside the presence of other potential jurors.

Soon after, the right of individual voir dire was made part of Connecticut’s constitution.

“The whole key to our Connecticut system was voir dire outside the presence of all other jurors,” Keefe said. “The Judicial Branch was desperate to cut down on the amount of time it took to pick a jury. Tony cut a deal with them for six jurors, which saved them a lot of time.”

DeMayo also spent much of his life volunteering for an arraying of organizations and performing public service. His obituary notes that he was the past president of the University of Connecticut Law School Alumni Association and Law School Foundation and a lecturer at the University of New Haven.

He was involved with a past president of Family Services of New Haven, a former member of the East Haven Planning and Zoning Commission, and as an avid philatelist, the founder of East Haven Kid’s Stamp Club. Several posters on Legacy.com praised DeMato’s support of East Haven’s Hagaman library; another recalled him as a generous landowner who opened his 12 acres to deer hunters.

One mother posted on Legacy that even after her children had grown too old for the club, DeMayo would send them stamps in the mail with a friendly note. “Truly, he was one of the kindest men we’ve ever known,” she wrote.•