The co-chairman of the state legislature's
judiciary committee wants a full review of allegations that a judge charged with
drunken driving last month angrily hurled epithets at police officers during her
arrest, called a black state police sergeant nigger and told officers she was a
Judge E. Curtissa R. Cofield, 59, who is black, also referred to state police Sgt. Dwight Washington as "Negro Washington" during her Oct. 9 arrest — which was captured by police video recorders — Courant columnist Kevin Rennie, a lawyer and former state legislator, wrote in his column in Sunday's Courant.
"Assuming it's true that she made those extremely racist comments, that can't be tolerated — from a judge, of all people," state Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, said Monday.
Nothing was said of Cofield's alleged conduct during her appearance Monday in Superior Court in Manchester, where Judge William Bright Jr. delayed a decision on her application to a pretrial alcohol-education program until Dec. 8. Those who are admitted to and successfully complete the program, open only to first-time offenders, will have their record of arrest wiped clean.
Bright said he wanted to give the prosecutor a chance to talk
to Trooper Michael Kowal, whose patrol car Cofield reportedly struck as she
drove her BMW east on Route 2 about 10:50 p.m. on Oct. 9. Bright said he
received an objection to Cofield's application from Kowal.
State police initially reported that Kowal was not injured, but he is seeing a doctor as a result of the crash, said Lt. J. Paul Vance, a state police spokesman. Vance wouldn't comment on the allegations that Cofield made racist comments. Cofield, her attorney, James Sulick, and the prosecutor handling the case, John Whalen of the chief state's attorney's office, also declined to comment.
Bright said he has received letters of support for Cofield — about 40, according to Cofield's lawyer — and then heard glowing statements from a prominent defense attorney and a clergyman in favor of approving Cofield's application.
"Despite all the letters, I don't believe she should be treated differently in this situation because she is a judge, whether it's positive or negative," Bright said.
Lawlor said Bright should see the video of Cofield's arrest. "At minimum, I would certainly expect that under the circumstances the judge would review the videotape before deciding whether Judge Cofield should be admitted to the program," Lawlor said.
It's appropriate, Lawlor said, for the judge to consider an applicant's demeanor during arrest and the injuries anyone suffered. "In this particular case, the comments are troubling," he said. "Beneath the surface there's more to the story than just someone who had too much to drink."
Lawlor said he is exploring whether his committee, which oversees the judicial branch and has the power to impeach a judge, will be able to view the videotape.
"Our first preference would be to have the judicial branch do the oversight," Lawlor said. "We have been in communication with them to see what, if anything, will happen. We have received assurances there will be some type of action taken at some point. Obviously, it's still a pending case in court. We want to know the whole story."
The state Judicial Review Council should also open an investigation, if it hasn't already, Lawlor said.
The executive director and the chairman of the council said Monday that they cannot say whether an investigation of Cofield has begun. Such investigations remain secret unless the commission finds sufficient reason to air them publicly.
According to a state police incident report, Cofield drove her 2003 BMW X5 into Kowal's state cruiser, which was parked in the right shoulder protecting a construction zone. Cofield was taken to the Glastonbury police station for processing and was charged with driving under the influence and failure to drive in the proper lane. Her comments were captured on a video and audio monitoring system at the Glastonbury police station.
The Courant filed a Freedom of Information request with Glastonbury police for a copy of the video of Cofield's booking. Glastonbury Police Chief Thomas J. Sweeney denied the request, and the newspaper is appealing to the state FOI Commission.