Sunday, December 28, 2008

"The Branch", out of control

GOVERNMENT WATCH Connecticut
Another Judge's Conduct In Question

Jon Lender | Government Watch
December 28, 2008


Sometimes an accusation of improper behavior by a judge sets off a clamor of publicity, as with the racially charged tirade that Superior Court Judge E. Curtissa Cofield allegedly inflicted on police officers who arrested her on drunken-driving charges in October.

Then there's the quiet case of Superior Court Judge Kevin E. Booth of Niantic.

Booth, 66, has resigned effective this Wednesday after 16 years on the bench, at least partly as a result of a female court employee's unpublicized accusations dating back to 2001 that he made inappropriate comments to her and other women at work.

The accusations show up in Booth's personnel file, obtained from the Judicial Branch through a Freedom of Information request.

While Booth never admitted making them, he seemed to acknowledge last week that they are behind his decision not to seek appointment to senior judge status after his Dec. 31 retirement — a status under which many retired judges hear cases at $220 a day.

Booth said in his written statement: "I had long planned to retire and to take senior status at the end of this year. Although my present term expires in February of 2009, I decided not to seek reappointment as a senior judge when it became apparent that questions would surround my reappointment. ... Even though I looked forward to continuing as a senior judge, I did not want to subject myself and my family to, at best, what was shaping up to be a difficult renomination process."

The questions might have involved Kathleen Shea, once case-flow coordinator at Superior Court in Meriden, who said in 2001 that Booth's conduct and comments at Meriden created a "hostile work environment."

In a 2001 report, a judicial official wrote that Shea said "female staff members are 'freaked out'" by Booth's "inappropriate comments" such as "a remark ... to a female staff member who was wearing patent leather shoes, to the effect that she must not have gone to Catholic school where the nuns would have warned her about wearing patent leather shoes, ... referring to the shininess of the shoes reflecting up the woman's skirt."

The report also said that Shea, who is a lawyer, said:

•That "out of context to the conversation Judge Booth will consistently question female staff members about their marital status, who they live with and where they live."

•That Booth "will bring up the fact that he exercises, and then make a comment to the effect of 'with your figure, you don't need to exercise.'"

•That Booth "will make a female employee come into his office, sit down and shut the door to have a conversation on matters that could easily be handled over the phone."

Shea also "indicated that at least six ... other women in the courthouse have stated that Judge Booth's behavior and comments [make] them uncomfortable." She said there was "a long list of similar complaints against him" by "various female employees ... at various locations [in the] ... Judicial Branch." Shea would not provide names, the report said, although she said one woman told her "that she has made a conscious decision not to pursue a complaint outside and feels that it is in her best interest to 'live with it.' There is a concern about raising a complaint about a judge and the impact that such action could have on one's career."

Shea alleged that after she complained about Booth, her supervisor began retaliating against her and judicial branch higher-ups did not stop it. After pursuing state administrative remedies, she finally sued the judicial branch and the supervisor in 2004. The lawsuit was settled in June 2006 in federal court. The state paid Shea $30,000. Shea, who had resigned, agreed not to reapply for any state judicial branch job for seven years.

Booth came to the Meriden courthouse in fall 2000, after a brief stint in New Haven. Shea claimed he approached her in 2001 and asked if there was "anyone [he] needed to watch out for" — and told her "he meant by his question whether he has to worry about anyone making sexual harassment claims against him."

Booth was originally nominated for the bench in 1992 by then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker and confirmed by legislators in 1993. He was reinstalled in early 2001 by then-Gov. John G. Rowland and legislators for a second eight-year term. He moved from the Meriden courthouse in September 2001.

In 2006 Booth wrote to the judicial branch's deputy chief court administrator. He forwarded an undated letter in which he thanked two top administrative judges for a "recent meeting" and wrote, "In view of my earlier incident, I know that the immediate move was in my best interest. I do believe that Ms. Shea has an agenda and that her claims are largely unfounded with regard to other women employees being troubled. Several of the women she referred to by position approached me and said how much they enjoyed working with me." He included a June 14, 2001, note from one who said "I really will miss working with you!"

It is unclear what "earlier incident" he wrote of; no details were in the file. "This statement is all I have to say," Booth said in his statement.

Superior Court judges are paid $146,780 a year. After Booth retires, he will receive monthly payments on an annual pension of $102,256.

Booth's file also includes a report from the police department in East Lyme, which includes his home village of Niantic, about a Nov. 24, 2002, incident in which an anonymous female called to complain that "an older heavy set male dressed in dark pants had exposed his male genitalia to her while he was sitting on the wall ... by Crescent Beach."

A police officer saw an SUV parked nearby with a man inside fitting that description, in dark pants. It was Booth, who denied involvement, the report said. In his statement last week, Booth said: "Regarding the East Lyme Police report, I absolutely and unequivocally deny the unsubstantiated allegations."

•Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at jlender@courant.com, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115.

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Scroll down in [this post] for Andrea Wilson discussing what the Connecticut Judicial Branch is really about.


What are other insiders in the judicial branch saying when they feel free to let loose? [more]

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[click here] for:

Sovereign and Judicial Immunity of Judges

There is a raging debate on whether judges should have blanket immunity from prosecution, even for malicious acts. Should a judge be able to stand up from the bench, pull a gun, shoot you dead, and then be immune from prosecution?

Should judges be able to rape, rob, murder, and falsely imprison citizens on their whims? [click here] for a video on the Grand Jury System and the need for a strong one.

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