Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of interviews with Connecticut judges. In this installment, the Connecticut Law Tribune chats with Hartford Superior Court Judge Matthew Dallas Gordon.
An aspiring actor, Matthew Dallas Gordon had no intention to become a lawyer, let alone a judge.
Even though he loved and admired his father, noted attorney H. Stephan Gordon, he had been preparing his whole childhood for one dream job: working as an actor on stage. His father had been an attorney for 50 years, and had the distinction of being appointed by then-President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s as the first general counsel for the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Matthew Gordon said his father never pushed him toward any profession. The elder attorney had only wanted for his children what would make them happy, Gordon told the Connecticut Law Tribune on Friday.
Born in Puerto Rico 62 years ago, Gordon grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. He attended his school’s local theater programs, and majored in dramatic arts when he attended Bard College in upstate New York. He then went to work at the Hartford Stage company, where he remained for about a year.
“I took a long look in the mirror about this acting career I wanted,” he said. “I decided then not to do it because of all of the challenges associated with being an actor.”
While he was with Hartford Stage, a fellow actor suggested he join the support staff of the powerhouse Hartford law firm of Day Berry Howard, which later became Day Pitney. His friend, Peter Buckley, thought Gordon might like working at the law firm because of Gordon’s father’s successful legal career. He was right.
Gordon said soon after joining the staff of Day Berry Howard, he realized he’d be a lawyer.
Gordon got his law degree in 1987 from the University of Connecticut School of Law. He went back to Day Berry Howard, where he remained from 1987-1992. Gordon worked as a lawyer for Skelley Rottner from 1992-2003, before starting his own firm under his name in 2003. He remained there until May 2017, when Gov. Dannel Malloy appointed him a Superior Court judge. His first home as a judge was at Rockville Superior Court, handling the criminal docket until he moved to civil matters. About six weeks ago, he was transferred to civil litigation in Hartford.
Gordon said the transition from attorney to judge “was fascinating.”
“I’ve conducted numerous settlement conferences that have resulted in the settlement of significant cases,” he said. “The first 15 years of my career I represented defendants and insurance companies. And the last 15 years of my career, I represented individual plaintiffs and, because of that, I can see both sides of the controversy that comes before the court.”
Gordon added: “I can talk to the insurance adjusters and the individual plaintiffs in a way that makes sense to them. They know their position is being heard.” Most of his settlement conferences, Gordon said, involve either business litigation, personal injury or employment-related matters.
Those that have known Gordon and seen him work up-close as a lawyer say Malloy could not have picked a more dedicated and responsible person for the bench.
Ted Morris, who worked with Gordon at Day Berry Howard, has known him for more than 25 years. Morris even wrote the governor a letter in support of nominating Gordon for a judgeship when Gordon’s name was being bandied around for consideration.
“I wrote to the governor to tell him that Matt was a fantastic lawyer,” said Morris, now the assistant general counsel for New Britain-based Stanley Black & Decker. “He is very thorough, very careful and scrupulously ethical. He is not one to rush to hasty decisions. He has always weighed all sides of any problem when he was practicing law and, to me, that is the perfect trait for a judge.”
Ray Guenter, former general counsel for several banks, including Connecticut National Bank and Shawmut Bank, has known Gordon for 18 years. The two men are neighbors in West Hartford.
“I think he thinks of equal justice for everybody as being the most important element of our society,” Guenter said.
Beyond his reputation as a good listener on the bench and as a practicing attorney, Guenter said Gordon also stands out for his volunteer work as president of their neighborhood association.
“He’d always sit back and listen, and he’d make people feel that he was taking in what they were saying,” Guenter said. “He made everyone feel that what they were saying was important. He never made any snap judgments. He was always very thoughtful in his approach.”
Gordon said he often thinks about his father, who passed away in 2002 at 81 years old. “I can only imagine the pride my father would be experiencing now to see me as a judge,” he said.
Gordon has a broad resume of civic service, including as a member of the board of directors of the Connecticut Hispanic Bar Association, former president of the University of Connecticut Law School Alumni Association, and former president of the Hartford County Bar Association.
Gordon lives with his partner, Ruth Kurien, whose son, Jamie, is a rocket scientist in charge of the Mars rover.