A Connecticut judge who founded the nation’s second full-time community court died Sunday in his Hartford home at age 76.
Hartford’s community court, which opened in 1998, was modeled on a community court that had opened five years earlier in New York City. The Hartford court handled low-level quality-of-life offenses, such as public drinking and loitering. Defendants often were ordered to perform community service that could lead to erasure of their criminal records.
In his retirement letter last year, Norko said the community service was performed in neighborhoods affected by the defendants’ behavior. The sentences try “to connect the person with a sense of belonging and contributing to the community,” he wrote.
Norko was appointed to the bench in 1985 after a career in legal services. He was appointed in 2011 to chair the state’s Access to Justice Commission.
Norko received the Connecticut Bar Association’s Charles J. Parker Legal Services Award in 1985 for his dedication to the delivery of legal services to disadvantaged people. Last year, Norko received the Franklin N. Flaschner Award for outstanding judge in a specialized court. The award is given by the ABA Judicial Division’s National Conference of Specialized Court Judges.
Chris Pleasanton, program manager with court operations for Connecticut, told the Connecticut Law Tribune that the community court was important to Norko and the defendants who appeared before him.
“He was the soul of the court and, in my opinion, still is,” Pleasanton said. “He knew people’s names, and he’d talk to them. He knew the situations of many of the defendants and treated them 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.”