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How sad the story of Joseph Moniz, once one of the Connecticut bar’s shining stars. The one-time partner at Day, Berry & Howard is often considered one of the state’s most skillful criminal defense attorneys, and a leading figure in the Constitution State’s minority counsel community. Today, Moniz sits in jail, a prisoner not just of the state, but equally too of substance abuse and ego. Joe Moniz is a lawyer who makes headlines, often because his cases steam with racial heat. He has come to the defense of many a black man, and frequently won the day, by pointing out racial inequities, by exposing racial prejudice. When Joseph Lomax, a black drugstore clerk, was accused of murdering a white female newspaper reporter, Moniz argued the case to a hung jury three times, prompting the state to drop the charges. And, just days before he himself was sentenced to six months in prison, the Cape Verde native won a controversial case in which a jury acquitted an East Haven police officer of acting unreasonably when he shot a fleeing black man, Malik Jones, but ordered the town of East Haven to pay $2.5 million for permitting racial profiling against blacks. Moniz also is the attorney for the Aquan Salmon family, which is suing the city of Hartford over a similar incident, with similar racial issues at play. When Judge Howard Scheinblum sentenced Moniz � who left Day, Berry two years ago to form his own firm, Moniz Cooper & McCann � to three years in prison, suspended after six months, it was in the middle of what some observers called a near race riot at the Enfield court house. Moniz supporters, including the Jones family, came to court angry that this talented attorney was being sent away. “This is to shut him up. He will not shut up. He will not go away,” said his sister, Onna Moniz John. Meanwhile, Emma Jones, the mother of Malik Jones, told reporters that “something is very wrong here . . . There must have been some other alternative for a black attorney.” But this had nothing to do with Moniz’s race. In the early 1990s, Moniz was arrested on charges that he had kicked a police officer while being arrested on drunken driving charges. During that proceeding, Moniz argued that he was being targeted because he is black, because he was defending a black man (Lomax) and that the system was rigged against him because there weren’t enough black people in the jury pool. He beat that rap then, and tried to bring some of the same issues into play now. But the facts are clear now. Moniz has a drinking problem. He has been arrested three times over the last five years for drinking and driving. Each time, the system has tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Yet, repeatedly, Moniz refused to accept the helping hand that was offered him. With his driver’s license suspended, this officer of the court nonetheless chose to continue driving, and to continue drinking � continuously violating his probation and the trust of the court. Last winter, when presented with a plea bargain for his latest violation, he accepted the terms and pled guilty under the Alford Doctrine. Along the way, the court extended him as many as 11 continuances on his sentencing in order for him to wind up his personal and professional affairs, and to complete the Malik Jones trial. After all that, on sentencing day, Moniz had the audacity to come to court and assert that he did not understand the ramifications of pleading guilty, and that he had been pressured by prosecutors. His statement ran afoul of the state’s attorneys, who contradicted his assertions; his own lawyer, who bowed out from the case; and eventually the judge, who could not square such a statement from a man who practiced criminal defense law for 28 years in Connecticut. Moniz’s demons � alcoholism, hubris that he could game the system, and a sense of infallibility � did him in. None of that had anything to do with the color of his skin.

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