Meet Attorney Jerry Padula of Connecticut

Nov 23, 2019 413

Jerry Padula currently serves as a Staff Attorney at the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection. A native of the Town Plot section of Waterbury, Connecticut, he is proud of his Italian roots and his neighborhood.  In fact, he lives in the same three-family home purchased in 1912 by his Ponzillo great-grandparents shortly after their immigration from Caiazzo (Caserta), Italia.  This is the same family as the great dramatic soprano Rosa Ponselle, whose famous career began with Erico Caruso at the Metropolitan Opera. 

Jerry attended local Catholic schools, as did his two younger sisters.  He began playing alto saxophone at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, and continued through Holy Cross High School in the Concert and Jazz bands.  The son of a carpenter father and hospital worker mother, he became the first in his family to attend college when he enrolled at the University of Connecticut.  While at the Waterbury Campus, he joined the Jazz Band at nearby Mattatuck Community College, and served in the Associated Student Government. 

At the main UConn campus at Storrs, Jerry was elected to the Undergraduate Student Government.  After reviving the dormant “Circolo Italiano” as “The UConn Italian Society,” Jerry and his group organized the first-ever Italian Festival in the UConn Quad behind the Student Union.  This event featured pizza and Italian desserts, and introduced the sport of Cheese Rolling to the university community.  The idea to host this rare sport came from Jerry witnessing and participating in cheese rolling contests at the Pontelandolfo Community Club in Waterbury during its annual Festa di San Donato.  The sport was demonstrated by Jerry’s Town Plot neighbor, a cheese rolling champion originally from Pontelandolfo, Italia, one of just two towns in Italia who play this rare sport.

While a representative on the USG, Jerry and a small group of students successfully fought an effort to remove Columbus Day from the University calendar and replace this State holiday with “Indigenous People’s Day.”  Unfortunately, his efforts to elevate Columbus Day into a day off from school, mirroring other State institutions, did not materialize until after he graduated.

After earning Phi Beta Kappa honors and graduating with a double major in History and Political Science, magna cum laude, Jerry attended the University of Connecticut School of Law.  His law school application mentioned his desire to open his own law office in his neighborhood, a dream that he later realized.  He quickly became a student member of the Connecticut Italian-American Bar Association, and took over the leadership of the Italian Law Student Association.  The group hosted several notable speakers on campus with several interesting topics such as “Alternative Dispute Resolution” with Hon. Judge Joseph Pellegrino, and “Canon Law” with Rev. Alvin LeBlanc.  All the students and many professors came to know Jerry’s group as having excellent events, especially when judged by the food served.  During his time at UConn Law, and with the blessing of the Dean, Jerry also led an Italian flag-raising ceremony for Columbus Day, complete with the playing of the American and Italian national anthems, to help raise awareness that this holiday should be recognized with a day off from school.

After graduation, Jerry worked at the Judicial District of Waterbury and for local firms.  Jerry then opened his own firm right on Highland Avenue, the main street of his Town Plot neighborhood. Shortly after his time, Jerry was approached to run for political office, as a rare vacancy opened up for the position of Probate Judge, covering a three town district of over 130,000 people.  Despite being a political newcomer against a well-established opposition group, being out-spent six-to-one, and being of the ripe judicial age of just twenty-six, Jerry very narrowly lost this contest.  It did serve to acquaint him with local politics, and sparked his desire to serve his broader community.  He was chosen to serve as a Justice of the Peace for a time, and was appointed to serve on the Bureau of Assessment, a City board with a name much more impressive than its scope of authority.

In 2005, Attorney Padula accepted the position of Legislative and Administrative Advisor to the Commissioner of Consumer Protection.  In this role, Jerry represented the Commissioner and the Department of Consumer Protection at the State Capitol, drafted proposed legislation and departmental regulations, and interfaced with legislators and all facets of the legislative branch, the Governor’s Office, the Office of the Attorney General, trade associations of various types, unions, and lobbyists.  One notable regulatory saga that was ultimately successful utilized Jerry’s passion for his Italian heritage.

A regional Italian food importer and distributor brought to the Department’s attention that some olive oil being sold in Connecticut was fraudulent.  Chemical testing revealed that the content of these “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” tins was a mixture of low-grade olive pomace oil and other lesser oils such as hazelnut and soybean.  The Department’s own testing confirmed this sad fact.  Despite much work by Jerry, including many meetings with Italian-American legislators, the Department’s legislation to address this important health and economic issue failed at the last second on the last day of the legislative session.  But Jerry had a contingency plan already in place: A regulation was soon promulgated which implemented the first modern standards for olive oil in North America. This standard was copied by other states, and today helps ensure a safe food supply.  After the successful withdrawal of a suit challenging this new regulation, Jerry was honored to accompany his Commissioner and the Director of the Food and Standards Division to the annual meeting of the North American Olive Oil Association in New York, where the Connecticut delegation was given a standing ovation and much praise.

While working for DCP, Jerry became President of the Connecticut Italian American Bar Association.  He and his board continued the tradition of honoring a worthy Italian-American attorney or jurist with the group’s Annual Achievement Award.  Ceremonies were held in conjunction with the annual awards ceremony of the Italian-American Legislative Caucus at the State Capitol.  Attorney Padula was honored by the Connecticut Bar Association by being inducted as a “New Leader of the Law” in large part for his efforts to raise the profile of the CIABA across Connecticut.

Attorney Padula also continued to serve his local community by being appointed to the City of Waterbury’s Board of Finance, and from 2009 through 2017, by being elected to four terms on the Board of Aldermen, the City’s legislative body.  As Alderman, he was appointed to serve as a board member for the Waterbury Development Corporation, and as a commissioner of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission.  As a cultural patron, Jerry produced an Italian Christmas Concert in Waterbury for several years which featured mostly Italian-language music to celebrate the Holiday Season.

Jerry was called to another type of service after listening to a short speech by a ten year old girl who had been suffering from Crohn’s Disease.  Jerry was instantly connected to this girl and the other patients, as he had been battling ulcerative colitis for decades after his initial diagnosis at age eleven.  Wanting to do something that would help his fellow patients, especially the children, push himself out of his comfort zone, raise awareness among others, and also come clean about his own illness which had basically been kept secret all those years, Jerry signed up to run his first Half-marathon for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.  Yes, that is a 13.1 mile run.  And no, Jerry was not a runner.  With diligent raining, Jerry completed his first race, and followed up with three more in the three years that followed.  He was also honored to be the “honoree” at the Connecticut Chapter Chapter’s first-ever gala, called “Bottoms Up” (yes, the event title is a play on words), in the fall of 2016.  He was also invited to become Vice President of their group, which he accepted.  He later found out that this position was actually entitled “President-elect.”  So, Jerry has been proudly serving as President of the Connecticut Chapter since January 1, 2018.  Jerry remains ready to render assistance to patients, as well as to help advance forward to the goal of finding a cure for these digestive diseases.

Given his past Jazz band memberships and his genetic link to opera great Rosa Ponselle, Attorney Padula is still passionate about music. He has been informally singing at karaoke venues and with live bands any chance he can get.  Even while on vacation, he has belted out his favorite tunes for strangers, especially standards by crooners such as Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Walden Robert Cassotto (Bobby Darin).  He was honored to be chosen by the City of Hoboken as one of fifteen competitors from around the world to take part in their “Sinatra Idol” contest in 2018.  For Jerry, it was the experience of a lifetime dressing the part of Frank Sinatra wearing his Grandfather’s fedora, standing in Frank Sinatra Park with the other Sinatra singers, and looking out over Manhattan across the river.  Although he did not win the contest, he enjoyed every aspect of the evening, and he may audition again for a future chance to bring the crown home to Town Plot.  Until then, he will keep practicing.

SOURCE: National Italian American Bar Association

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