JRC: j2008079

 JUDICIAL REVIEW COUNCIL 
 
FILE NO. J2008-079 HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT
IN RE: THE HONORABLE E. CURTISSA R. COFIELD  FEBRUARY 27, 2009

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

On October 15, 2008, the Judicial Review Council ("the Council"), acting on various public media reports of the arrest of the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield ("the respondent"), on October 9, 2008, by the Connecticut State Police for the offense of driving under the influence and her subsequent use of inappropriate language to police officers, voted to initiate an investigation into the circumstances of that arrest and her following interaction with police officers. The Council also received notification of the arrest from the Chief Court Administrator on October 22, 2008, and from the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield on October 23, 2008.

Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51l, a confidential probable cause hearing was held on January 26, 2009, wherein the respondent appeared with counsel and introduced evidence, including her own testimony. Following the hearing, the Council that date filed the following charges against the respondent:

CHARGES

1.   Violation of Canon 1, Code of Judicial Conduct
   On or about October 9 and 10, 2008, the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield did violate Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51i and Canon 1, Code of Judicial Conduct, by willfully invoking her position as a judicial officer in an effort to influence and intimidate law enforcement officers while they were acting in their official capacity, thereby failing to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
 
2.   Violation of Canon 1, Code of Judicial Conduct
   On or about October 9 and 10, 2008, the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield did violate Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51i and Canon 1, Code of Judicial Conduct, by willfully using disparaging and demeaning language to law enforcement officers while they were acting in their official capacity, thereby failing to observe high standards of conduct.
 
3.   Violation of Canon 2(a), Code of Judicial Conduct
   On or about October 9, 2008, the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield did violate Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51i and Canon 2(a), Code of Judicial Conduct, by willfully engaging in conduct that caused her to be arrested on that date for driving under the influence of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 14-227a, thereby failing to respect and comply with the law and failing to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
 
   
4.   Violation of Canon 2(a), Code of Judicial Conduct
   On or about October 9 and 10, 2008, the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield did violate Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51i and Canon 2(a), Code of Judicial Conduct, by willfully directing racially inappropriate language to law enforcement officers while they were acting in their official capacity, thereby failing to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
 
5.   Violation of Canon 2(a), Code of Judicial Conduct
   On or about October 9 and 10, 2008, the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield did violate Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51i and Canon 2(a), Code of Judicial Conduct, by willfully using disparaging and demeaning language to law enforcement officers while they were acting in their official capacity, thereby failing to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51l(c), the Council thereafter conducted a public hearing on the above-listed charges on February 9, 2009. Notice of the Charges and public hearing was provided as required by regulation. The respondent appeared with counsel. The Executive Director of the Council, Attorney Peter A. Clark, presented a stipulation of facts agreed to by the respondent and her attorney and documentary evidence pertaining to the conduct of the respondent on the night of October 9 and 10, 2008. The respondent testified personally and presented the testimony of six character witnesses, one expert witness, and more than sixty letters from friends and associates on her behalf. The Council did not exclude any witnesses or exhibits proffered by the respondent.

After deliberating in executive session, to which the respondent did not object, the Council reached the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions:

FINDINGS OF FACT

The Council finds the following facts are established by clear and convincing evidence:

1.   At all times material to the charges, the respondent was a judge of the Superior Court of the State of Connecticut.
 
2.   With the exception of the conduct at issue, the respondent's record as a public servant and jurist is unblemished. She has served as an Advisor to the Hartford Police Department, a State's Attorney, and a Superior Court judge for seventeen years. She has never been the subject of a complaint to the Council. The Honorable Patrick Clifford, Chief Administrative Judge of the Superior Court, testified that he knew the respondent personally and was familiar with her reputation, and he had high regard for her comportment as a judge. The Honorable Aaron Ment, judge trial referee, entered her two most recent judicial evaluations into evidence, which reflected, based on submissions from attorneys practicing before her, that she was rated good to excellent in virtually all areas of assessment. United States District Judge Vanessa Bryant, who has known the respondent for thirty-four years, testified that she is a highly regarded judge who has contributed a great deal to her community and civic organizations. At the public hearing, the respondent apologized to the police officers involved in her arrest, to her fellow judges, and to the people of the State of Connecticut for her actions on the night of October 9 and 10, 2008.
 
3.   The Council commends the professionalism and exemplary conduct of all of the Connecticut State and Glastonbury police officers involved in the events described herein.
 
4.   On the night of October 9, 2008, while driving her personal vehicle in Glastonbury, Connecticut, the respondent struck a Connecticut State Police cruiser parked on the shoulder of the road in a construction zone. A Connecticut State Trooper was in the vehicle.
 
5.   Connecticut State Police Sergeant Dwight Washington was dispatched to the scene of the accident to investigate. He spoke to the respondent, who was seated in her vehicle, and she denied having been drinking or under the influence. He detected the odor of alcohol on the respondent's breath and her eyes were bloodshot. Sergeant Washington administered various field sobriety tests to the respondent, which she failed. Sergeant Washington placed her under arrest for the offense of driving under the influence in violation of Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 14-227a. She was then transported by Connecticut State Police vehicle to the Glastonbury Police Department for processing, which began shortly before midnight on October 9, 2008. She was thereafter taken to State Police Troop H headquarters in Hartford and was released from custody at approximately 5 a.m.
 
6.   While at the Glastonbury Police Department, the respondent was under constant audio/visual surveillance, and all of her words and actions during her processing were recorded on a DVD.
 
7.    During her processing, the respondent provided two urine samples, one hour and five minutes apart, for blood alcohol analysis. The samples were analyzed by the State Toxicology Laboratory and found to contain, respectively, .16% and .17% ethanol (alcohol) by weight. No illegal substances were detected in the samples.
 
8.   Driving Under the Influence is defined by statute as driving while having an elevated blood alcohol content. An elevated blood alcohol content is defined by statute as a ratio of alcohol in the blood that is .08% or more of alcohol by weight. See Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 14-227a.
 
9.   During her processing at the Glastonbury Police Department, the respondent made the following disrespectful, demeaning, and racially inappropriate comments to, about, and in the presence of various Connecticut State and Glastonbury police officers:
 
   a. On more than one occasion she called Sergeant Washington "asshole";
 
   b. She stated to Sergeant Washington "I will kick your ass";
 
   c. She addressed Sergeant Washington, who is African American, as "Mr. Negro Washington" and referred to him in his presence while speaking to another person on the telephone as "the head nigger in charge";
 
   d. She insisted upon being addressed as judge, threatened Sergeant Washington that he would not have a job, and stated that she was smarter than him and would prevail in Court;
 
   e. She called a female Glastonbury police officer "little girl" and referred to Sergeant Washington and the female officer as "Ken and Barbie."
 
10.   At the probable cause hearing on January 26, 2009, the respondent stated two times that she accepted full responsibility for her actions, that she was "…shocked and dismayed by my unrecognizable conduct," "…my conduct on the night of October 9 was an aberration resulting from imprudent consumption of alcohol…," and that "…on October 9 I failed miserably. I embarrassed the institution I love…."
 
11.   At the public hearing on February 9, 2009, the respondent did not deny making any of the statements set forth in paragraph 9 above, all of which were depicted in the DVD in evidence as exhibit 6. She acknowledged that her statements contained "racially insensitive language" which she attributed to her "intoxicated condition."
 
12.   While not denying any of the above-described conduct and statements, the respondent contended that her conduct was not willful. "A judge may be sanctioned for a wilful violation of one of the canons of judicial conduct if [s]he intended to engage in the conduct for which [s]he is sanctioned whether or not [she] knows that [s]he violates the rule." In re Flanagan, 240 Conn. 157, 183 (Conn. 1997) (internal citation omitted). As discussed below, the Council finds that the respondent intended to engage in the charged conduct.
 
13.   The respondent presented the testimony of Dr. Martin Zellman, a psychiatrist. He opined that because of her legal state of intoxication her words and actions could not have been willful. Dr. Zellman testified that his opinion was based on a medical definition of willfulness, and he did not know the legal definition of that term. He stated that once a person is beyond the .8% limit establishing intoxication for the purpose of driving under the influence, a person does not know what they are doing and they can not act willfully. Dr. Zellman testified that he observed only 3-5 minutes of the more than two-hour DVD of the processing, did not clearly recall what specific conduct he had observed, but stated that what he did observe confirmed his belief that the respondent's intoxication rendered her incapable of acting willfully. The Council does not credit Dr. Zellman's testimony that, as a general principle, intoxication of the respondent's level categorically negates the ability to act willfully in terms of legal responsibility, and does not credit his assertion that, based on such a limited observation of the respondent's actions on the DVD, he could nevertheless formulate a well founded opinion on the willfulness of her actions in this specific instance. Furthermore, Dr. Zellman's testimony concerns only the respondent's post-arrest conduct, but has no bearing on the charge in Count 3 based on conduct causing the respondent to be arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. There is no evidence in the record suggesting that the respondent's consumption of alcohol on the evening in question, or her subsequent decision to drive, were unintentional.
 
 
14.   The Council has viewed the DVD of the respondent's processing at the Glastonbury Police Department in its entirety, and has had a full opportunity to observe her demeanor and physical and mental state over the more than two hour time span of these events. Although belligerent and contentious, she appeared mentally alert. She did not exhibit confusion or physical impairment to any significant degree. Her speech was not slurred and she expressed her thoughts coherently. Based on close observation of all of the respondent's words and deeds throughout the entire span of the respondent's processing, the evidence is clear, convincing, and wholly uncontroverted that the respondent's words and actions were undertaken with the requisite degree of willfulness to hold her responsible for the allegations in the charges.


CONCLUSIONS

Based on the foregoing, the Council finds by clear and convincing evidence and upon motions made and seconded that:

As to Charge 1, the respondent, the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield, on or about October 9 and 10, 2008, did willfully violate Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51i and Canon 1, Code of Judicial Conduct, by willfully invoking her position as a judicial officer in an effort to influence and intimidate law enforcement officers while they were acting in their official capacity, thereby failing to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary. The vote of the Council on this charge was unanimous, all twelve members voting in favor of finding a violation.

As to Charge 2, the respondent, the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield, on or about October 9 and 10, 2008, did willfully violate Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51i and Canon 1, Code of Judicial Conduct, by willfully using disparaging and demeaning language to law enforcement officers while they were acting in their official capacity, thereby failing to observe high standards of conduct. The vote of the Council on this charge was unanimous, all twelve members voting in favor of finding a violation.

As to Charge 3, the respondent, the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield, on or about October 9, 2008, did willfully violate Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51i and Canon 2(a), Code of Judicial Conduct, by willfully engaging in conduct that caused her to be arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in violation of Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 14-227a, thereby failing to respect and comply with the law and failing to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. The vote of the Council on this charge was unanimous, all twelve members voting in favor of finding a violation.

As to Charge 4, the respondent, the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield, on or about October 9 and 10, 2008, did willfully violate Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51i and Canon 2(a), Code of Judicial Conduct, by willfully directing racially inappropriate language to law enforcement officers while they were acting in their official capacity, thereby failing to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. The vote of the Council on this charge was unanimous, all twelve members voting in favor of finding a violation.

As to Charge 5, the respondent, the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield, on or about October 9 and 10, 2008, did willfully violate Connecticut General Statutes, Sec. 51-51i and Canon 2(a), Code of Judicial Conduct, by willfully using disparaging and demeaning language to law enforcement officers while they were acting in their official capacity, thereby failing to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. The vote of the Council on this charge was unanimous, all twelve members acting in favor of finding a violation.

ORDER

Based on the foregoing and pursuant to its authority set forth in Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51n(a)(2), the Council, by unanimous vote of all twelve members in favor, hereby suspends the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield for a period of eight months, that is 240 calendar days, during which time she may not exercise any of the duties, powers, or privileges of a judge. During the period of suspension the Honorable E. Curtissa R. Cofield's judicial salary, including any benefits related thereto, shall, to the extent applicable and permitted by law, be suspended, and time shall not be accrued for rights in any pension plan. See Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 51-51p. This suspension shall occur on dates to be determined by the Judicial Branch of the State of Connecticut, at the earliest occasion consistent with the orderly administration of court business but not before the expiration of the appeal period set forth in Practice Book Sec. 74-1.

  JUDICIAL REVIEW COUNCIL
   
   
  _________________________
  Ross H. Garber
  Chairman




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