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Embattled judge in N.H. resigns

Governor called for her ouster

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Norma Love
Associated Press / April 22, 2008

CONCORD, N.H. - Judge Patricia Coffey resigned yesterday, days after the New Hampshire Supreme Court suspended her for three years on grounds that she was complicit in a fraudulent property transfer and evasive and misleading to investigators.

Coffey, 54, a Superior Court judge in Rockingham County, has admitted helping shield her husband's assets as he was being disbarred from practicing law three years ago. She said she realized then that the state probably would demand that John J. Coffey, a lawyer, pay thousands of dollars to cover the cost of investigating him.

A disciplinary committee recommended the court suspend her for three months without pay, but the high court said that was not enough.

In her resignation letter, Coffey said she was disappointed by the court's decision last week because it emphasized some evidence while ignoring other evidence.

"I have taken responsibility for what I did and I did try to deal honorably and in a forthright manner with counsel for the Professional Conduct Committee and the Judicial Conduct Committee," she wrote. "My regret is that my actions, when I was under extreme emotional duress, may have reflected poorly on the judicial system as a whole and on those people who strive daily to make that system work, and to them, I apologize."

Governor John Lynch had called for Coffey to resign or for the Legislature to remove her. "To ensure the continued faith of the people in our judicial system, its judges must meet the highest standards of ethics and integrity, and follow the law at all times," Lynch said yesterday after announcing her departure.

John Coffey was disbarred in 2005 for exploiting an elderly client. Property he owned with his wife was transferred into a family trust four days before he was notified he had been found guilty of misconduct and would face discipline.

The justices found that Judge Coffey participated in a fraud by transferring the property, disregarded an explicit court order to repay the costs of her husband's disbarment investigation, and was evasive and misleading about her actions.

The court's Judicial Conduct Committee investigates misconduct by judges and recommends punishment. The committee's recommendation for censure and a three-month suspension for Judge Coffey was based, in part, on its conclusion that she had cooperated with the investigation. But the high court said the record showed she was "not completely forthright."

Patricia Coffey, a judge since 1991, had told the panel she kept her distance from her husband's professional problems so they would not affect her work as a judge. She said she spoke to him about it only twice, and he seemed cautiously optimistic about the outcome. Around that time, she said, she had been dealing with stressful family issues and was not thinking like a lawyer or judge but like a wife and concerned mother.

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