Judge Michael Albis did not realize until his senior year at Yale University that he wanted to be an attorney, but his mother always knew.
From an early age, Albis said, his now 93-year-old mother Helen had always hoped her son would be a lawyer. And being the middle of seven children helped a bit, he said.
“My mother’s comments arose from when I’d speak up for one of my siblings, who I thought was being treated unfairly or who was perceived to be treated unfairly,” Albis told the Connecticut Law Tribune Thursday. “There were a lot of good times in that busy house, but also a lot of arguments and challenges.”
And so years later on her 88th birthday, it was with beaming pride that Helen Albis watched as then-Gov. Dannel Malloy swore in her son to be a judge. Her son, now the chief administrative judge for family matters based out of Middletown, was elevated to judge in 2013. Before becoming a judge, the 65-year-old East Haven native and resident had a wealth of legal experience dating back decades.
Soon after graduating law school from the University of Connecticut in 1978, Albis opened his own law practice with Fred Krupp, a former roommate from Yale University. The two worked together for about four years, during which Albis said he focused on “helping people with everyday problems,” and built a practice focused on wills and estate planning, real estate transactions and advising small businesses.
“I liked where I could talk to people one on one,” he said.
Albis later was a judge for children’s probate court and served as town attorney for East Haven. His first judicial assignment was in April 2013, hearing criminal matters in New Britain. That stint was a short one, as Albis soon was assigned to the Hartford Judicial District-Family Division and later to the family division for the Middlesex Judicial District in Middletown. He became chief administrative judge in September 2018 with two main functions: coordinating the judiciary’s education in family law, and keeping judges abreast of new laws and practice rules.
Albis concedes that family law was new to him at the time. He had dealt with the topic very briefly in private practice and leaned on several individuals for guidance, including Elizabeth Bozzuto, then-chief administrative judge for the family division and now the deputy chief court administrator for the entire court system.
“I learned a lot from her about the law, and that family law can be very complex,” Albis said. “I also learned from her the importance of making the system easier for people to navigate, especially since so many parties in family matters do not have attorneys.”
Now that he presides over family matters, mostly divorces, Albis said he couldn’t have imagined a better job. He said he uses all of his legal skills to try to work with families, especially when children are involved, to avoid trial. That is in everyone’s best interests, he said.
“The hard cases in terms of gut-wrenching decisions are those where you have two good people who love their children and are both caring parents, but external circumstances, such as a relocation of one parent for a job, prevents them from being involved in the daily lives of their children,” he said. Even sadder, he said, “are the situations where parents could co-parent, where they live close enough and are both financially secure, but they have such animosity toward each other that they lose sight of what is best for the child.”
The best part of the job, he said, is when level heads prevail.
“It’s most rewarding when parents, who were at odds with each other, can either through the efforts of the staff of family service officers or through events in the courtroom, come to an agreement that is beneficial to everyone, especially the children,” Albis said.
Those who have watched Albis’ career say it’s his demeanor that stands out above all.
Longtime New Haven attorney Hugh Keefe has known Albis for more than 25 years, from when they both did legal work for the town of East Haven.
“He is very well-liked,” Keefe said Thursday. “The single most important characteristic of a good judge is demeanor, and Mike has that in spades. He is deliberative and never loses his temper or his control. That is not to say he is not firm when he has to be.”