Judge Suspended In DUI Case

Hartford - A Superior Court judge accused of drunken driving and using racial slurs while arguing with police officers was suspended Monday for 240 days without pay by a judicial review panel.

Judge E. Curtissa Cofield, who was confirmed as Connecticut's first black female judge in 1991, had apologized to the state Judicial Review Council earlier in the day, calling the night of her arrest “one of the worst experiences of my life.”

The panel determined, by unanimous vote, that Cofield's “disparaging and demeaning” comments failed to live up to the standards of integrity and impartiality expected of judges. The council could have imposed up to a one-year suspension and recommend her permanent removal by the Connecticut Supreme Court, but instead settled on the lesser suspension.

Cofield acknowledged that her conduct was “reprehensible,” but said she did not willfully violate the conduct code because her judgment was impaired by her intoxication. She testified that her behavior was completely out of character.

”I regret that my actions may have tarnished the institution that I love,” Cofield told the council. “I've embarrassed and humiliated my family and loved ones, and disappointed my friends.”

She later said she found the decision to be harsh but would not appeal.

Cofield and several friends and colleagues who testified for her noted her dedication to public service. They said she has been active in the minority community, schools and churches.

”I ask you to judge me not by a snapshot in time ... but judge me by the content of my character,” Cofield told the panel.

Cofield was arrested the night of Oct. 9 after her car hit a parked state police cruiser in a construction zone on Route 2 in Glastonbury. Police say she told them she hadn't had any alcohol, but she failed a sobriety test.

Urine tests later that night showed she had a blood-alcohol level of twice the legal limit of 0.08.

She also argued with state and Glastonbury police officers. A surveillance camera at the Glastonbury police department captured the exchanges on video, which shows her using the N-word, calling a black state trooper “Negro,” threatening that trooper's job, referring to a female officer as “little girl” and “Barbie” and using other offensive language.

”When I watched the video, I did not recognize myself,” Cofield told the council. “The woman I observed that night is not the woman I am.”

Cofield has been accepted into the state's alcohol education program for first time DUI offenders, and the drunken driving charge will be dismissed if she successfully completes the program.

The judge said alcohol and race have never affected how she does her job, and she believes she can continue to be impartial on the bench.

Attorney G. Kenneth Bernhard, a member of the Judicial Review Council, said he was particularly troubled with what Cofield said at the police station.

”Obviously all of us in the community ... were upset by the prolonged barrage of comments that you made to the arresting officers that was protracted over a three-hour period,” he said.

Bernhard asked Cofield whether she realized that her behavior was inappropriate at some point at the police station.

”It really didn't occur to me because I was not myself,” Cofield said. “I was intoxicated.”

Judge Susan S. Reynolds appeared to stump Cofield when she asked why Cofield's comments were not racist.

”Why is it not racism .... Hmmm. I think for crimes like bias you have to have intent,” Cofield said. “All I can say is I was really intoxicated. ... I can't explain it. Why is it not racism ... I don't know. But if it is or someone perceives that it is, I apologize for that.”

Cofield said she has been at the receiving end of racism and would never intentionally inflict that on someone else.

Marvin Zelman, a psychiatrist who said he has spent 15 hours with Cofield, testified about how alcohol can impair judgment. He also said Cofield was under a lot of stress in 2008.

Zelman said Cofield's father had died after falling early in the year. A week after her father died, her mother's house burned down. Cofield's adult children had legal problems; and her mother did not like that her husband was buried with a flat tombstone and sought to have his body moved to another grave site, he said.

Council members asked Zelman if Cofield's intoxication revealed her true beliefs on race and other issues.

”It was merely the expressions of someone who is intoxicated,” Zelman said. “I do not feel she had control over her faculties. I find her to be a very fair-minded, kind, considerate person.

”She's had an impeccable record for 17 years and I see no reason she couldn't continue,” he said.

Other judges were subpoenaed to testify about Cofield's job performance. They said she received above-average job evaluations and her reputation was excellent.

Cofield said she is upset that some people now think she is racist.

”My life has been dedicated to ensuring equality among all people,” she said. “While I am proud of my race and my culture ... I've never acted on the basis of race and the record proves this to be true.”

Associated Press Writer Susan Haigh Contributed To This Report
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