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HARTFORD, Conn. — At long last, the widow of a New Haven, Conn., Superior Court judge has won a round in her epic legal battle to prove her late husband was literally worked to death by the state of Connecticut. Representing the estate of Frank Kinney Jr., Joan Kinney has spent 15 years pursuing a claim against the state. Ruling in the case May 29, New Haven Superior Court Judge Richard Arnold determined that a legislative bill allowing Kinney’s particular negligence claim against the state is not unconstitutional as a “special emolument” lacking in any broader public purpose. Arnold found a broader purpose did exist, after invoking the Connecticut Supreme Court’s recent controversial State v. Courchesne decision on statutory interpretation. Arnold built upon statements by lawmakers in 1994 to extrapolate a public purpose the legislators had never voiced in so many words. He concluded the legislature, in allowing Kinney’s negligence suit, “is sending a message to the public, employees and employers that those who go above and beyond the line of duty, and indeed work so hard as to endanger their health, are persons that the state must recognize in order to foster worker productivity and worker morale, and that workers everywhere, who give more than their jobs require, will not receive short shrift from the state.” In addition, Arnold found a public purpose in lawmakers’ interest in resolving the unexamined public policy question of whether an employer can be held negligent for overworking an employee. When he died of a heart attack Sept. 27, 1986, Frank Kinney was the presiding criminal and administrative judge for New Haven, the chief administrative judge for the state court system’s criminal division and chairman of the Commission to Study Alternative Sentences. (His son, Frank Kinney III, was New Haven County’s high sheriff before the sheriff system was abolished.) Testifying in a 1988 workers’ compensation case initiated by Kinney’s family after his death, former Chief Court Administrator Aaron Ment described Kinney as “indispensable.” Kinney, Ment noted, “didn’t think it was possible to replace him with another individual, that it would take several judges to fill the various roles that he had undertaken for us.” In an attempt to gain restitution for a life shortened by overwork, his estate first won a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Board. Three previous judges had won and been paid for comp claims, but Kinney’s win was appealed to a final 1990 Connecticut Supreme Court conclusion. In Kinney v. State, the high court ruled that judges are not “employees” and cannot bring claims under the workers’ comp system. Time limits had expired for the estate’s efforts to sue through the state claims commissioner, but it lobbied for and won passage of Special Act 94-13, which allowed it to sue anyhow. The General Assembly cited compelling equitable circumstances and found a “public purpose for not penalizing a person who exhausts his or her administrative and judicial remedies” before filing against the claims commissioner. In the 16 years since Kinney’s death, the estate has pursued this claim in state and federal court, including appeals to the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court. Thomas B. Scheffey is a reporter for The Connecticut Law Tribune , a Recorder affiliate based in Hartford, Conn.

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