Josephine Smalls Miller
Josephine Smalls Miller (Krista Hicks Benson)

A federal judge has sanctioned a civil rights attorney for alleging in a discrimination lawsuit that the Bridgeport Board of Education will not hire any private practice African-American attorneys to handle its cases, including her.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Meyer has ordered attorney Josephine Miller to pay a $1,500, penalty as well as dismissing the discrimination lawsuit with prejudice. The judge also ordered the referral of the matter for disciplinary review.

“From what I can tell, Attorney Miller is fervently devoted to a noble objective of redressing discrimination,” Meyer wrote. “But no fervor for one’s case may justify false statement. My hope is that with time Attorney Miller will appreciate the limits that truth and the rules of professional conduct impose for all cases upon the zealous advocacy of counsel.”

According to the opinion, Miller knew that two African-American attorneys performed legal services for Bridgeport. Nevertheless, she stated in the complaint that Bridgeport City Attorney Mark Anastasi paid a white attorney who formerly provided representation for a certain client, but that he has refused to pay Miller, who is an African American, for her work for the same client.

If Miller had not alleged that no African-American attorneys performed legal services for Bridgeport, her complaint might not have survived a motion to dismiss, the judge said.

Miller’s client, Andrew Cimmino, is a former Bridgeport elementary school teacher who was fired following sexual abuse allegations. Cimmino claims the allegations were fabricated by two school employees, and he has pursued civil claims against the employees and the school district. Miller defended Cimmino in a sexual harassment and constitutional-rights lawsuit the two school employees brought against the Bridgeport Board of Education, the city of Bridgeport and Cimmino.

U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant ruled this spring that Miller’s claims of racial discrimination regarding payment for her representation of Cimmino could survive a motion to dismiss. But the judge seemed to express some skepticism about the complaint, writing Miller “faintly alleged” her conspiracy claim. “Attorney Miller must have understood that any inference of discrimination would be far less potent—or well-night non-existent at all-if she conceded (as she knew) that the defendants regularly engaged the services of at least two African-American attonreys,” Meyer wrote in his order.