(Hartford Courant) Sen. Kissel: “The path to permanency is crucial for Connecticut’s children.”

March 25, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

10 Children Living In Limbo As Judge Fails To Act, DCF Alleges

Adoptions stalled; Judge E. Curtissa Cofield had 120 days to rule on placements, state says; lawmaker reacts to ‘failure in the process’

By JOSH KOVNER, [email protected]

The Hartford Courant
2:11 PM EDT, March 25, 2013

A juvenile court judge has been ordered to address a batch of child-protection cases that she inexplicably allowed to languish, stalling adoptions or other permanent placements for 10 children who had been removed from their parents due to abuse or neglect.

The Department of Children and Families had to seek an appellate court order against Superior Court Judge E. Curtissa Cofield, who has a history of discipline, compelling her to make decisions in four cases involving the 10 children.

Each of the cases concluded at least 11 months ago, and Cofield in each instance failed to render a ruling within the required 120 days, according to a motion filed with the appellate court by DCF Commissioner Joette Katz.

The state attorney general in January asked Cofield to render judgments, but she failed to act in the face of those requests, court records indicate. It is likely that had she acted, she would have terminated parental rights in these cases, according to DCF.

Katz told the Courant she has now asked the attorney general’s office to notify her each time a child-protection case is delayed. The attorney general’s office represents the state in these matters.

The children remain in temporary foster care. The appellate court on March 14 ordered Cofield to rule on the cases no later than April 1.

After the deadlines expired, Cofield reached out to the lawyers in the cases and asked for an extension of time. The lawyers agreed, but Katz, a former state Supreme Court justice, pointed out in her petition to the appeals court that a public hearing is required on an extension request. No hearings were held.

“For children in foster care, one of the most important things we can do is secure a permanent family as soon as possible,” Katz said in a statement to The Courant. “Every child deserves that, and no child should be denied that due to the failure of a legal process to abide by the rules.”

In the motion, Katz said Cofield’s inaction “continues to hold the fate of these 10 children in limbo.”

Cofield has declined to comment publicly, Judicial Branch spokeswoman Rhonda Stearley-Hebert said Monday.

She said the chief court administrator, Barbara Quinn, is not commenting because the child-protection cases are pending and Cofield still must issue rulings.

Cofield’s eight-year term expires in 2015. The re-nomination process for Cofield would begin next year. Robert S. Bello, chairman of the Judicial Selection Commission, said Monday that he could not comment on the appellate court order against Cofield because the panel would have to decide on a recommendation.

The ranking Republican on the legislature’s Judiciary Committee said Katz was correct to seek a definitive order from the higher court.

“The path to permanency is crucial for Connecticut’s children,” said state Sen. John A. Kissel of Enfield. “When the process breaks down, kids are left in limbo. (Katz) spotted a failure in the process, she has taken appropriate action, and I commend her for doing so.”

In October of 2008, Cofield, of Glastonbury, made racist remarks to police officers during an arrest on drunken-driving charges. Cofield’s rant was caught on video tape. The state Judicial Review Council punished her in February 2009 with an eight-month suspension with no pay or benefits.

When she returned, she was transferred from adult criminal court to the juvenile court, where the proceedings are confidential and closed to the public.

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