For nearly two decades David W. Griffin has been a well-known fixture in Connecticut divorce law, an energetic lawyer who, given the nature of his specialty, preserves a remarkable optimism and steadiness. In recent years the Waterbury native has emerged as a high-profile influence in major divorce cases, in no small part from his role as a Special Master in the Regional Trial Docket, where he tackled many of the state's toughest cases. And long before joining Arnold Rutkin and Sally Oldham in Westport, Griffin had developed a family-law practice based on a unique and valuable set of skills: For years he worked on both sides of high-stakes commercial real estate development transactions, and for over a decade he assumed key board leadership roles for Waterbury's largest institution, Waterbury Hospital. Thus Griffin has "never been intimidated by the extra zeroes, or the personalities that come with them," says a peer. With real estate playing an ever-greater role in divorce litigation, and the ever-present need for financial fluency, Griffin's background adds to an already powerful arsenal at Rutkin, Oldham & Griffin, now perhaps the leading divorce boutique in the state. If it's possible, Griffin could have been a lawyer before he passed any bar exam: His father, the late Walter R. Griffin, was for 60 years a renowned general practitioner in Waterbury; two older brothers have practiced as well. Growing up, Griffin recalls, "I discovered that a lot of people didn't think much of lawyers, but they always admired and respected my father, truly a pillar of the community - he really was helping people." At the elite Taft School in Watertown Griffin was a runner and played basketball; years later, after one of his own children attended the school, Griffin reflected on the easy-going early 70s, a time "much less structured than today - utterly permissive by comparison." He went to Ithaca College, drawn in part by a left-wing political science department that "turned out to be more left-wing than I was."
Resourceful and hard working, Griffin worked in bars and restaurants through college, and had an eye on law school early on. "Naturally my father inspired me" to the law, he says, but the young Griffin pledged to chart his own course: he went off the University of Houston law school, one of the best law schools in Texas but hardly the province of a Yankee lawyer. But, with his then-wife eager to return, Griffin took an associate's position with the respected Susman & Duffy firm in New Haven, beginning a career in Connecticut real estate law. Within a few years, after immersing himself in zoning, permitting and development issues, a major development firm recruited him as general counsel, where he worked until the early ‘90s, "through the booms and busts." When he went out on his own in the early 90s, hanging a shingle around the corner from Waterbury's courthouse, Griffin was a veteran transactional and restructuring lawyer, looking to expand his expertise. That's when he began accepting matrimonial cases in earnest. "I found that I liked it, and that I was good at it," he says. "In fact, it was the one area of the law where I felt I was really helping people - the way my father did." In short order, Griffin had built a practice, dovetailing his background in complex deals with the shrill emotions of dissolving marriages. Before long the state called Griffin to mediate cases in the Regional Family Trial Docket, based in Middletown, a mechanism to resolve complex cases already in litigation. The program helped ease the huge court docket, and handed Griffin valuable experience.
In 1998 Griffin's father and older brother Stephen walked into his office and said "Now is the time - come join us." Though Griffin never expected they would practice together, today he'd "never trade those years." Walter Griffin died in April 2010; David Griffin continued expanding his practice, until one day Rutkin began wooing Griffin to join him. The two hang-ups: First, the difficult decision to leave a partnership with his brother, and second, Griffin, as Chairman of the Board of Waterbury Hospital, had become a pillar of the Waterbury community just as his father had a generation before. To make a go of a Fairfield County practice, Griffin resigned the longtime leadership role in December 2010.
Today Griffin in many respects is still settling in, but he seems well suited to the change: "I'm comfortable sitting at the country club, or down at the corner bar," a quality that will count for much in affluent and status-conscious Southwestern Connecticut. Clients will immediately recognize a decency and rare energy in Griffin; all his life he's loved to run outdoors ("Mostly trail running now," he says, "I started as a kid, and never stopped.") Over the years, too, Griffin discovered the calming, contemplative world of fly fishing - "It's not really about the fishing," he says. And for over two decades he's been a licensed pilot. "I know it sounds a little corny," he says, "but I treat every day as an opportunity to learn - that's what makes life interesting and challenging. It's a streak of idealism, I suppose, but I hope I never lose it." He and his wife Diane, an orthopaedic physical therapist, have four grown children between them.