A judge who was placed under strict orders to complete long-overdue decisions affecting the future of children in state care has complied, but may not yet be in the clear.
Curtissa Cofield, a juvenile court judge, was ordered last month to complete decisions affecting 10 children in foster care limbo. She has done so, according to the Reporter of Judicial Decisions. Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz, herself a former Supreme Court justice, requested assistance from her former colleagues on the high court to order Cofield to act.
Katz was unavailable for comment late last week, but in March she expressed extreme frustration with delays in rulings that could lead to children being placed in permanent homes. She explained why she filed the unusual public complaint against the judge: ‘I didn’t want anybody looking back at us in the future, if and when these cases were appealed, and have a court say, ‘Where were you in the lives of these children?’ So it was really through that lens that I instituted this action."
DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt said that the department had no comment on the matter.
Bridgeport criminal defense lawyer Wayne F. Keeney, who is chairman of the Judicial Review Council, said he could not comment on whether Cofield’s tardiness could prompt further review. The council, a 14-member panel of attorneys, judges and members of the public, has the authority to initiate and investigate a complaint against a judge on its own right, Keeney confirmed.
In past years, the Judicial Review Commission has privately reprimanded judges who have missed the 120-day deadline for writing opinions on court cases without a waiver of the rule from the parties. Last year, in a public proceeding, the council suspended Superior Court Judge William Holden for 20 days for neglecting to write articulations of his decisions, thereby holding up the appeals of three prisoners.
Katz had asked the Supreme Court to exercise its broad supervisory powers to encourage Cofield to act. The high court asked the state Appellate Court to handle the matter. On March 14, the Appellate Court directed Cofield to complete the decisions by April 1. She has complied with one 29-page decision dated March 28, and three others totaling 79 pages, issued April 1.
The cases in question involved termination of parental rights. Without a determination by Cofield, the 10 children could not be placed in permanent homes. Several of them had permanent placement available with a relative or adoptive parent.
The case of two siblings, Shmarr and Lendsey L., was tried March 28, 2012, and a decision was due July 26. The other eight childrens’ cases were in the same time frame.
The Judicial Branch, through a spokeswoman, said it would have no comment on the matter. Cofield declined an invitation to speak to the Law Tribune. A South Windsor lawyer who has represented Cofield in the past in criminal matters said he has been unable to contact her last week, and declined to comment.
Cofield was arrested for drunk driving in 2008 after her car slammed into the parked car of a state trooper in Glastonbury, injuring him. Her angry tirade against her arresting officers, laced with racial slurs, was videotaped in the police station. In a subsequent hearing before the Judicial Review Council, Cofield received the most severe punishment it has ever meted out – an eight-month suspension without pay. •