When Mike Stratton was 25, he wanted to be New Haven’s John F. Kennedy — a healer who would defend the city from economic stagnation, racial strife and gang violence.
At 49, he has renounced politics, blaming government machinations for the turbulence in his personal life. These troubles came to a head in June when New Haven police arrived at his Crown Street sublet to find Stratton, a trial lawyer, in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend, a 20-year-old woman he said found him isolated and confused and “nursed [him] back to health.”
Stratton is used to being in the public eye. As a first-term alder for Prospect Hill and Newhallville, he vocally opposed Mayor Toni Harp and the team of alders backed by Yale’s blue-and-pink-collar unions. Stratton led a lone fight this spring to cut education funding, claiming the school district was receiving excess city money — more than any other city in Connecticut — with only the tacit permission of lawmakers and residents. He frequently sparred with education administrators and, twice, had heated public arguments with colleagues, ending in their attempt to hold him in violation of aldermanic procedures. Citing personal reasons, Stratton resigned his seat on June 23, 10 days after the police incident.
Now his private relationship has become the subject of public scrutiny, as Stratton faces charges of assault and breach of peace stemming from the June 13 incident, in which Stratton called the police, claiming his girlfriend had attacked him. Officer Jason T. Jackson arrived at the apartment shortly after midnight, at which point Stratton reported that his girlfriend, Courtney Darlington, had punched him repeatedly in the face and chest, bloodying his lip and ripping his shirt, according to an affidavit signed by Jackson.
Darlington admitted to punching and kicking him, but did not indicate that Stratton had harmed her, a statement she affirmed in an interview last week. She was arrested and arraigned the morning of the incident. Stratton was initially not charged. He said the dispute erupted from his threat to break off the relationship following an argument at a bar and smoke shop on College Street.
When reports later circulated that responding officers had visited the pair’s fourth-floor unit and saw marijuana, New Haven police launched a follow-up investigation, according to Assistant Chief Archie Generoso. As part of that investigation, announced the day after Stratton’s resignation, Jackson viewed video surveillance tapes from the apartment building allegedly showing that Stratton did strike Darlington one time closed-fisted, though she did not move upon impact, and began a second swing before stopping his hand, according to the affidavit.
Based on the review, the State’s Attorney’s Office applied for an arrest warrant. It was signed by Judge Anthony Avallone on July 2. Stratton waited until Aug. 12 to turn himself in. Judge Jane Grossman ordered him the next day to surrender any firearms and not assault or otherwise threaten Darlington. His next court date is Sept. 11.
Stratton said this week the charges do not stand up: assault requires proof of physical injury and that breach of peace must occur in public space. The case should be thrown out, he continued, at which point the city would vulnerable to a “massive malicious prosecution case.”
He accused authorities of reinvestigating the case simply to target him for speaking out against the mayor. Assistant State’s Attorney David Strollo declined to comment on the case, saying only that it will be discussed between defense lawyers and prosecutors, and perhaps a judge.
Harp’s chief of staff, Tomas Reyes, said any accusation that the mayor was involved in Stratton’s legal trouble has “no basis in fact or truth.”
But for Stratton, his personal setbacks are intimately tied to his political losses. Because New Haven judges are Democratic partisans, he said, they will refuse to throw out the case against him.
His challenge to the status quo was a “lonely process,” he said, one that drove him to abuse Adderall, he said in a Wednesday night interview.
“The problem is — and this is fine to print — I was a little too attracted to my Adderall,” he said. “I can take up to 90 milligrams of the drug. I was taking that every day for two months.”
Politics also interfered with his legal practice, he said. Before turning himself in, he resigned as partner from his prominent law firm, Stratton Faxon Trial Lawyers. He is now “of counsel” to the firm, which has been renamed Faxon Law Group Trial Lawyers. In addition to trying cases for Joel Faxon, his old partner, he is launching his own firm, True Stratton, which will do trial work in Connecticut and New York, he said.
It will also perform “acts of kindness,” he said, such as delivering gift bags to parents who have lost their kids to violence.
Stratton attended the Hopkins School in New Haven and went to college and law school at Colgate University and Boston University, respectively, before returning to New Haven as a trial lawyer.