Editor’s Note: This is the Connecticut Law Tribune’s second in a series of profiles on judges. Today, we look at Connecticut Appellate Court Judge Nina Elgo.
In a professional career that has been capped off by many “firsts,” Judge Nina Elgo comes to the Connecticut Appellate Court confident and ready for the next challenge.
Honored that she was the first Asian Pacific American judge named to the Superior Court in Connecticut in 2004 and the nine-member Connecticut Appellate Court in May 2017, the 56-year-old Norwich native said being the first of anything has it challenges and rewards.
“It [her background as a first-generation Filipino-American] makes my appointment significant to the extent that it’s more public and gets a little more notice,” Elgo told the Connecticut Law Tribune Thursday. “Maybe, I put a little more pressure on myself because of it. I’m aware of it [the milestone], you can’t help but be aware of it. It’s important to me, who as a first, to keep my eye on the ball and to note, first and foremost, that my responsibility is to be a judge and to fulfill those responsibilities to the best of my ability.”
Elgo’s peers, friends and acquaintances praise her as a jurist who is thorough, prepared and a good listener. If you have a case in front of Elgo, they said, you’d better be prepared because she always is.
“I remember arguing a motion with her when I was with [law firm] Rome McGuigan. I came away with a sense that I was heard and she was prepared and she understood my arguments,” said former Connecticut Superior Court and Appellate Court Judge Anne Dranginis.
Dranginis, now a partner with Pullman & Comley, called Elgo “really smart, and a very thorough and active listener. She has an elegant authority about her. I’ve always been impressed by her capacity to not only control the courtroom but to do it in a way that is not off-putting to either the counsel or the litigants in the matter.”
Ken Bartschi, a partner with Hartford-based Horton, Dowd, Bartschi & Levesque, has known Elgo for 23 years, since the days she was an attorney in the Attorney General’s Office. “She is brilliant and passionate and she is very thorough when she takes something on,” Bartschi said Thursday. “That can be anything from deciding on some project around the house to a volunteer project or her judicial work. She throws herself into it.”
Elgo, who has never been in private practice, worked for the Attorney General’s Office from 1990 to 2004, primarily assigned to the Child Protection Unit, where she represented the state’s Department of Children and Families in child protection cases.
Those cases, she said, were often traumatic for those involved. “I was fortunate enough to get a lot of litigation experience. I was easily in court at least four times a week. There were volumes of cases and you are dealing with children and families who are very vulnerable and who are, essentially, dealing with an incredible amount of trauma in their lives.”
Elgo’s time as a judge was also spent, in part, dealing with children. For a time, Elgo served as presiding judge for the Child Protection Session in the Middlesex Judicial District.
That, she said, is where emotions can sometimes get into the job. “We are all human and you do feel compassion, but, at the same time, you need to be able to understand your role in that situation [dealing with a vulnerable child].”
One of the more emotional and gut-wrenching cases Elgo presided over was several years ago and dealt with a 5-year-old boy who was found in a room swimming with feces and urine. “He was found in that room. The mother had left him with his aunt since, maybe, he was 2 years old. It’s not clear what his life was like during that time as he was not visible in the community. He was severely traumatized when he was found,” she said.
As a mother of a 19-year-old daughter, Elgo said, “I count my blessings. I was fortunate that my parents were fairly grounded and gave me a lot of stability. That gives you the tools to deal with difficult circumstances. I am aware that not everyone is that fortunate.”
When Elgo went on the Appellate Court last year, she, once again, made history. It was the first time the court had a female majority: five of the nine justices are women.
Elgo, a West Hartford resident, said she thoroughly enjoys the camaraderie and professionalism on the Appellate Court.
“We sit on three-judge panels and we always hope to come to some kind of consensus on a case,” she said, adding, “That part is really fascinating and rewarding. The ability to sit on the Appellate Court and to delve more deeply on issues really is a privilege.”
Elgo received her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1990. She is married to attorney Christopher Kriesen. The couple’s daughter is Caroline.