Raymond Norko, the former executive director of the Hartford County Legal Aid Society and the judge who helped launch the Hartford Community Court, died Sunday at his home. He was 76 years old.
Norko retired in March 2018 after about two decades serving the Hartford Community Court. His 20-year stint was not consecutive, as he often juggled other assignments, but many credited him with helping to make the court into what it is today.
The idea in opening the court in 1998: emulate a program in midtown Manhattan that focused on addressing quality-of-life crimes, such as loitering, prostitution, pubic drinking and panhandling.
Norko treated not only the staff with respect and dignity, but also those who appeared before him, according to those who knew him well.
“He was the soul of the court and, in my opinion, still is. He is the one who put it all together. It was his baby. He took charge of the project and brought a lot of people and agencies together. You have judicial, state agencies, municipal agencies and a wide array of non-profits,” said Chris Pleasanton, program manager with court operations for the state.
Pleasanton, who once worked for Norko and had known him well for 19 years, said: “The defendants looked upon him fairly well. He knew people’s names and he’d talk to them. He knew the situations of many of the defendants and treated then with a tremendous amount of respect. Even though he was the judge, most of the people who went before him thought they were treated fairly and with integrity.”
In a statement emailed to the Connecticut Law Tribune, chief court administrator Patrick L. Carroll III said Norko’s loss has hit the judicial community hard.
“The loss of Judge Ray Norko is not only a loss to me personally, but also to the entire judicial branch,” Carroll wrote. “He was hardworking, personable, committed and 100 percent dedicated to ensuring that every single person who appeared before him had meaningful access to justice. Judge Norko was compassionate, yet firm and the rule of law always guided his actions. Colleagues and staff loved and revered him, not only because of the way that he conducted himself on the bench, but for the way he treated everybody—with kindness, good humor and respect. Throughout his life, he exhibited courage and dignity, and he faced his recent health challenges with the same. He will be missed.”
Pleasanton not only worked with Norko, but said the judge was also his mentor. They also spent time together socially.
“We had great give-and-take with work, but we shared a lot of the same interests,” Pleasanton said. “We both loved New York Yankees baseball. We went to a game last May and he was happy because his favorite player, Aaron Judge, hit a home run.”
Pleasanton continued, “We talked about the Yankees a lot. He also had a passion for music, especially Bob Dylan and German opera. He and his wife, Rozanne, were also big foodies and traveled a lot.”
In August 2018, the American Bar Association recognized Norko for his 48 years of service as an attorney and judge, and bestowed on him the prestigious Franklin N. Flaschner Award. The prize honors jurists in courts of limited jurisdiction who have excellent reputations, a commitment to high ideals, exemplary character, strong leadership skills and noted ability to perform judicial duties.