With an eye on traveling and continuing his career as a judge trial referee, Michael Sheldon will step down April 1 from the Connecticut Appellate Court.
Sheldon, who will be leaving the bench under a state policy that requires judges to retire at 70, said being told to step down is harder than he thought. Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to name his replacement in April.
“I’ve been working since I was 25, and to stop working full-time is jarring and a big change,” said Sheldon, who turns 70 on April 6.
The judge, who said he’s looking forward to life after 70 and his role as a judge trial referee, also quipped: “I like the Vermont rule, which has an absolute drop-dead retirement age of 90.”
Known for his probing questions during oral arguments, Sheldon said he enjoyed joining the Appellate Court in 2011, after a 20-year career during which he wrote about 400 opinions as a Superior Court judge.
Sheldon said the most surprising thing he found right off the bat was “how well the collaborative process works and how satisfying it is.”
“You do not have to trade away your soul to get agreements,” he said. “Your colleagues listen and respond in a very creative and productive way.”
Two of the current sitting appellate judges—Douglas Lavine and Christine Keller—are Sheldon’s former students, who took his courses in criminal law and procedure at the University of Connecticut School of Law’s Legal Clinic.
Appellate Court Judge Nina Elgo said Sheldon is known among his peers as the consummate thinker and pro, who challenges attorneys during oral arguments.
“One of the great challenges on being on the Appellate Court is that it requires you to reconcile differences,” Elgo said Tuesday. “He is a force intellectually, and you need to be prepared and ready if you are disagreeing with him. You need to be able to justify and articulate your positions.”
Elgo, who has known Sheldon for about 12 years, said attorneys facing him during oral arguments must be prepared to answer complicated questions from the judge.
“Those questions are probing, thoughtful and his hypotheticals can be very complicated and daunting,” Elgo said.
Appellate Court Judge Alexandra DiPentima said Sheldon is an inspiration to many.
“My personal observations of Mike on the bench and off are probably shared by most of our colleagues,” DiPentima said. “In oral argument [he is] always a teacher and a listener, always treating self-representatives [or pro se litigants] with courtesy and attention, including inmates.”
Born and raised in upstate New York, Sheldon graduated from Yale Law School in 1974. Earlier this month, the Canton resident was named one of six winners of the Connecticut Law Tribune’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award.”‘