The Connecticut Supreme Court has denied the appeal of a man who was convicted of threatening to harm a judge, claiming the First Amendment does not allow for the specific email threats, including killing Judge Elizabeth Bozzuto with a gun 250 yards from her bedroom, that Edward Taupier made.
Bozzuto was a family court judge presiding over Taupier’s bitter divorce battle. The litigant then sent the threatening emails to several acquaintances, including one person who notified authorities. Bozzuto was never sent the emails, which described an attack on her in her Watertown home. One email detailed the distance of Bozzuto’s bedroom to a nearby cemetery and the gun Taupier said he’d use to shoot her.
Taupier was convicted on several charges related to the threat and sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2015. He has since said the words were protected free speech and permitted under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He has also maintained he never actually was going to harm the judge.
Police seized 15 firearms and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition from Taupier’s Cromwell home.
In a stinging rebuke of Taupier and his First Amendment claims, Chief Justice Richard Robinson, writing for the state Supreme Court Sept. 5, said: “The language of the defendant’s email conveyed the clear connotation that he was seriously contemplating violence against Judge Bozzuto.” The ruling was 7-0.
Norm Pattis, Taupier’s attorney, said Wednesday he plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
“The speech that Taupier engaged in was not a threat. He did not convey a threat to the recipient. He lacked specific intent to terrorize a person,” said Pattis of the New Haven-based Pattis & Smith Law Firm. “We think the court erred because free speech is sacrosanct. We also think the Connecticut Supreme Court ruling was particularly lame. We think our prospects at the U.S. Supreme Court are good.”
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear less than 1 percent of cases that are petitioned, Pattis is optimistic.
“We think specific intent is required under the First Amendment. That is an issue the U.S. Supreme Court has expressed some interest in taking up,” he said. “Obviously, we are swimming upstream. But our view is this is a dangerous ruling. Our private speech to others is not a threat. The Connecticut Supreme Court seems to be totally unwilling to give the First Amendment any teeth when it involves a claim involving a fellow member of the court. That is wrong.”
The emails, Pattis acknowledged, show “Taupier has a real animus toward Judge Bozzuto, he does. But public officials, especially, need to have thick skin. If you can’t take the heat, don’t wear the robe.”
Robinson wrote that Taupier’s writings are not protected under the First Amendment because, the court said, they were aimed at harming the judge.
Robinson also said that Bozzuto felt the threats were real because she took steps to protect her family.
“Judge Bozzuto’s fearful reaction and the steps that she took to protect herself and her family from the defendant, including installing security equipment and warning her niece not to go to her house without a police escort, show that she believed the defendant’s threats were serious. … The defendant’s e-mail was indeed a true threat,” Robinson wrote in the 35-page decision.
A judicial branch spokeswoman said Bozzuto would be declining comment on the ruling.
The state was represented by Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Mitchell Brody, Brenda Hans, an assistant state’s attorney, and Peter McShane, then a state’s attorney, who is now a judge. A spokesperson for the State’s Attorney’s Office said Brody, Hans and McShane would all be declining comment.
Pattis was assisted by attorney Daniel Erwin. Erwin was formerly with Pattis & Smith Law Firm. It’s not clear where Erwin is practicing now.
Taupier has had several run-ins with the law. In addition to the emails aimed at Bozzuto, he has a case pending in New London Superior Court for threatening court employees and Cromwell police last year. He also accepted a plea bargain for tampering with a witness in relation to charges of voyeurism in 2013. He was accused of videotaping a woman who was naked and uploading the material to porn sites. The encounters took place via hidden cameras in Taupier’s home and the woman did not consent to the filming, investigators said.