After a decade on the bench, John Nazzaro said he decided to leave the judiciary and return to the courtroom as a trial lawyer because it’s where he feels most comfortable.
Nazzaro said he enjoyed his time on the bench, but was frustrated by many in the legal community who appeared before him. Nazzaro, who often butted heads with lawyers and prosecutors as a judge, was critical of what he saw as a system that’s too eager to incarcerate people.
Nazzarro, who was a trial lawyer for 23 years, rejoined The Reardon Law Firm Jan. 1 in a move he had contemplated since being assigned to the New Haven Superior Court last year.
“It seemed to me that I would be presiding in civil matters as a judge and I found the work uninspiring and thought I’d be more suited as a lawyer back in the courtroom,” said the 59-year-old Pawcatuck resident.
Nazzaro first worked for The Reardon Law Firm in New London from 1988 to 1997.
Robert Reardon Jr., a partner with the firm, said he interviewed Nazzaro for his first stint there. Nazzaro was working for the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney at the time, and was eager to get into private practice.
Reardon said he was impressed with Nazzaro’s experience handling criminal matters for the state.
“I thought he had the potential to be a top trial lawyer,” Reardon said Friday. “And he was just that. He is able to present himself to a jury in a persuasive manner.
“I’ve been hiring trial lawyers for many years and I can recognize the personality traits that are likely to develop into a top trial lawyer,” Reardon added. “It is hard to pinpoint, but it is a combination of being articulate, bright and enthusiastic.”
While he presided over interesting cases and enjoyed working with courthouse staff, Nazzaro said there was often friction between himself and attorneys in the courtroom. That was evident when Nazzaro was in his second stint as a judge in Hartford Superior Court.
“I went back to Hartford criminal court in 2015-2016 and it was, in my view, worse than the first time I was there,” Nazzaro said. “I had many conflicts [with attorneys and prosecutors] as there was a constant parade for incarceration. It was not working and I told them so. I was reluctant to sentence people charged with simple possession and misdemeanors and people with a mental health history to incarceration. It made no sense whatsoever.”
Nazzaro said he made it known to prosecutors that he did not agree with how sentences were being handed out. Nazzaro wanted alternative solutions, such as getting drug addicts and individuals with mental health issues treatment instead of prison or jail time. In other cases, there were violent people in the system who needed to be separated from society, he added.
Nazzaro said that while he was often vocal with attorneys, “there were time when I had to shut my mouth on many issues. I am not good at shutting my mouth. I am not a go-along, get-along kind of guy.”
Nazzaro, who earned $167,000 annually as a Superior Court judge, declined to discuss his new salary.
Nazzaro also worked as a judge in Windham and Norwich and as chief civil judge for the New London Judicial District.
Proloy Das, a partner with Murtha Cullina, worked with Nazzaro when they were both at Rome McGuigan. Nazzaro worked at the firm from 2005-07.
“One of the things that made him effective as a trial judge was that he was an effective trial lawyer,” Das said. “He was very familiar with the rules of practice and evidence, and how a case needs to be presented in the courtroom.”
Reardon said Nazzaro will be busy handling negligence and malpractice claims at the firm, which has five attorneys.
“We are a very busy firm,” Reardon said. “We have many negligence and malpractice cases underway. We look forward to him taking over some of those files and taking the cases to trial. We have a long list of trials upcoming and his skills and expertise will be great help to the firm.”
Kelly Reardon, Robert Reardon’s daughter and a partner at firm, said she has already heard from people in the southeast corner of the state interested in bringing their cases over because Nazzaro joined.
“He has tremendous contacts in the community,” Kelly Reardon said. “People are contacting us because of his reputation. He has been around so long and will be a great asset to our clients.”
Nazzaro grew up in southeastern Connecticut. He graduated from the University of Bridgeport Law School in 1984, which later merged with Quinnipiac University’s law school.