Superior Court Judge Curtissa Cofield has been suspended for 30 days without pay for delaying decisions in child welfare cases.
The sanction was part of an agreement that was reached between Cofield and the Judicial Review Council, which had received a complaint that Cofield took over a year to issue rulings in 10 cases where foster children were awaiting placement in permanent homes. Bridgeport criminal defense lawyer Wayne F. Keeney, who serves as chair of the council, asked the New Britain juvenile judge whether she admitted committing the violation. "I admit with an explanation," Cofield said.
Cofield's lawyer, Hubert J. Santos, stipulated to the facts that alleged Cofield had failed to enter judgments in the cases within 120 days of trial, as court rules require. In exchange for her admission to one count, a second count alleging the same type of behavior was dismissed.
"We're asking that the council accept and approve our agreed upon disposition," Santos said. "That she be suspended for 30 days."
The disposition was accepted by the council, with no further sanctions given.
The delay by Cofield to issue rulings was brought to light back in March, when the Department of Children and Families and Attorney General's Office requested the Supreme Court to spur Cofield to issue judgments in the cases that were piling up in her court. Commissioner Joette Katz, a former Supreme Court Justice, and Attorney General George Jepsen asked the high court to get involved. The Supreme Court sent the matter to the Appellate Court, which ordered Cofield to issue judgments in the cases by April 1. Cofield complied, but she still had to face the Judicial Review Council. The 14-member panel of attorneys, judges and members of the public is tasked with investigating complaints against judges and handing down discipline.
It wasn't the first time Cofield was disciplined by the council. Back in 2008, Cofield was arrested for drunk driving after her car slammed into a parked car of a state trooper in Glastonbury, injuring him.
She was suspended by the Judicial Review Council in that case for eight months without pay. That was the most severe punishment the council ever meted out since its creation in 1978.
During the hearing at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, several people spoke on Cofield's behalf. One of them was Ramona Morcado-Espinoza, an assistant public defender who knew Cofield as an adversary, when Cofield worked as a prosecutor. "I hold her in the highest regard," Morcado-Espinoza said.
Likewise, William Dyson, a former state legislator from New Haven, said he knows Cofield to be a person devoted to helping others in need. The people of the state, he said, "deserve to have her back on the bench."
Addressing the council, Cofield said she regretted her 2008 arrest. "I wished I could take it back, but as with all things, its not possible."
Cofield said facing the latest complaint against her has been difficult and she's ready to put it behind her. "I want to formally apologize to the community for the times I've let them down," she said.