Repeat misconduct renders judge unfit

In 24 years, the Connecticut Judicial Review Council has held only 12 disciplinary hearings against sitting judges and two of them were prompted by the misconduct of Superior Court Judge E. Curtissa Cofield.

In both cases, the panel, composed of three judges, three attorneys and six members of the public, found the judge guilty of the charges and suspended her.

The first suspension, for eight months without pay, followed the judge's arrest and conviction in 2008 for drunken driving after her car sideswiped an occupied state police cruiser parked at a construction site in Glastonbury.

The DUI incident was highlighted by video of the judge, who is black, abusing the black arresting officer with racial taunts, referring to him as "the head n….. in charge."

The council also found she further violated the Code of Judicial Conduct by attempting to intimidate the arresting officers by reminding them they were messing with a judge. Her suspension was the most severe punishment the council has imposed since its creation in 1978, according to The Connecticut Law Tribune.

At the time, legislators could have reviewed the decision and sought Judge Cofield's removal. Rep. Michael Lawlor, then co-chairman of the judicial committee, said he believed any legislator, judge, prosecutor or police officer, who "did the exact same thing….probably would end up losing their job."

But after the suspension was imposed, Mr. Lawlor told James Fabrini, a Chicago attorney specializing in DUI cases, that legislators were satisfied with the 240-day suspension and the judge's apology, but he said "her ability to appear as impartial in criminal cases has been destroyed." After serving her suspension, she was transferred to Juvenile Court but trouble followed her there.

It came in the form of a second, 30-day suspension, imposed June 20 for her failure to issue rulings in 10 cases that delayed for up to a year the placement of abused or neglected children in permanent homes. The law requires such placements to be made 120 days after their cases on charges of parental abuse or neglect were heard. More than 20 years ago, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that these cases be settled promptly "because of the psychological effects of prolonged termination proceedings on young children."

When the cases of the 10 children had languished for more than a year, Department of Children and Families Commissioner Josette Katz sought the help of Attorney General George Jepsen, who asked Judge Cofield to render judgments. She failed to comply so the attorney general and commissioner had to ask the Supreme Court to order her to issue her rulings, which she did in April.

Although she finally complied, Judge Cofield still faced a disciplinary hearing and she hired Hubert Santos, one of the state's best known criminal lawyers, to represent her.

The skillful Mr. Santos was able to make a plea deal with the council's executive director, Scott Murphy, and his client was allowed to accept a guilty plea of "neglectfully and incompetently performing her duties as a judge." A second count of "failing to perform her duties competently" was dropped.

But when she appeared before the council and was asked if she accepted the guilty plea, Judge Cofield replied, "yes, but with an explanation" and proceeded to offer a 20-minute history of her life without a word of explanation about the case.

There is no indication yet if the General Assembly will exercise its right to review this second suspension and seek Judge Cofield's removal from the bench. It should. She has shown, after two disciplinary actions, that she is no longer fit to judge criminal cases and now, doubts have been raised about her conduct and abilities as a juvenile court judge.

Judge Cofield, appointed in 1991, will complete her current term in 2015. That's too long to wait.

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