Connecticut’s first female African-American judge suspended for late decisions

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JUDGE E. CURTISSA R. COFIELD

 

by Dave Collins

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – A state judge was suspended without pay for 30 business days after admitting Wednesday that she was late in issuing child welfare rulings, some of which were more than nine months overdue and delayed placement and adoption proceedings.

The suspension approved by the state Judicial Review Council was the second discipline in four years against Judge E. Curtissa R. Cofield, who oversees Juvenile Court cases in New Britain. In 2009, she was suspended for eight months after being accused of drunken driving and using racial slurs while arguing with police after her car struck a parked state police cruiser.

Cofield appeared at a public hearing before the council Wednesday with her lawyer and several supporters, including her 89-year-old mother. She apologized for her conduct during a more than 30-minute speech in which she described her ascent from a child experiencing racism in North Carolina to becoming Connecticut’s first female African-American judge in 1991.

She said she has done many good deeds, including helping women get off drugs and out of prostitution.

“I’ve been able to inspire and help a lot of people over the course of my career,” Cofield said. “I want to formally apologize to the community for the times I have let them down.”

Cofield agreed to the suspension as part of a settlement with the council. She admitted she violated state law by failing to issue decisions in a timely manner in the cases of 10 children who had been removed from their homes and placed in state custody, and neglectfully and incompetently performing the duties of a judge. All the cases involved termination of parental rights.

The council agreed to drop a second charge that Cofield violated the Judicial Code of Conduct in issuing the decisions late. There was no public discussion by the council before the suspension was announced.

While judges are supposed to issue child welfare decisions within 120 days of hearing evidence, Cofield took more than a year to rule in some cases, said Scott Murphy, the council’s executive director and a former prosecutor.

Murphy said the delays left the children in limbo and created stress and other problems for them.

The delayed decisions were criticized by Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz, a former state Supreme Court justice who won an order by the state Appellate Court earlier this year directing Cofield to rule in the cases at issue by April 1.

Cofield also apologized for her actions in 2009 when she was suspended for eight months. She said Wednesday that her actions in that case brought her shame and humiliation, tarnished her family name and embarrassed her community and church.

The judge was arrested in October 2008 after her car hit a parked state police cruiser in a construction zone in Glastonbury. Police say she told them she hadn’t had any alcohol, but she failed a sobriety test. Urine tests later that night showed she had a blood-alcohol level of twice the legal limit.

She also argued with state and Glastonbury police officers. A surveillance camera at the Glastonbury police department captured the exchanges on video, which shows her using the N-word, calling a Black state trooper “Negro,” threatening that trooper’s job, referring to a female officer as “little girl” and “Barbie” and using other offensive language.

The drunken driving charge against Cofield was dismissed after she completed the state’s alcohol education program for first-time DUI offenders.

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