AP NEWS

Judge Raymond Norko, community court founder, dies at 76

May 13, 2019
This 2011 photo provided by Chris Pleasanton shows Judge Raymond Norko, who died Sunday, May 12, 2019, at his home in Hartford, Conn. Norko led the opening of Hartford Community Court in 1998 and presided over it for years, as an alternative for handling low-level and nonviolent cases such as public drinking and loitering. He was 76. (Chris Pleasanton via AP)

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Judge Raymond R. Norko, who led the founding of Hartford’s nationally recognized Community Court and presided over it for years, has died. He was 76.

The Bridgeport native and Air Force veteran died from cancer Sunday night at his home in Harford, court officials said.

The Community Court opened in 1998 as an alternative for handling low-level and nonviolent cases such as public drinking and loitering, with defendants often being ordered to perform community service. It was the nation’s second full-time court of its kind, modeled after Manhattan’s Midtown Community Court that opened in 1993.

“Our defendants ‘pay back’ the community for their violation,” Norko wrote in a letter announcing his retirement last year. “However, in having a defendant perform community service in the neighborhoods affected by their behavior, we are trying to connect the person with a sense of belonging and contributing to the community.”

The court has won several honors, including being named a mentor to courts across the country by the U.S. Department of Justice and Center for Court Innovation.

Norko himself won a national honor last year — the American Bar Association’s Franklin N. Flaschner Award for outstanding judge in a specialized court.

Judge Patrick Carroll III, the state’s chief court administrator, said Norko was known for being a compassionate, yet firm, judge.

“He was hardworking, personable, committed and 100% dedicated to ensuring that every single person who appeared before him had meaningful access to justice,” Carroll said.

Norko began his legal career in 1970 as a legal aid lawyer for the poor. Democratic Gov. William O’Neill nominated him to the bench in 1985.