Judge Coffey: Do the right thing

It’s not clear whether sheer arrogance or an unfathomably dense inability to self-reflect is behind Judge Patricia Coffey’s stubborn insistence to remain on the bench, but whatever it is, she should at the very least begin reading the writing on the wall.

Unfortunately, Judge Coffey has been in the news twice in recent years for issues that raise serious questions about her ability to be effective on the bench. The first involved allegations that she was nodding off while hearing cases. A judicial conduct panel later found that there was no “credible evidence” that she was indeed inattentive, but it did mention that several “credible” people questioned her attentiveness. The allegations were dismissed, but Judge Coffey did agree to see a medical specialist to report back to investigators whether she had a problem that would cause such observations.

A far more serious allegation arose a few months later. It involved charges that Judge Coffey helped her husband – who’s a lawyer – shield some of his assets from creditors several years ago. At the time, he was facing disbarment proceedings related to his actions in taking financial advantage of an 81-year-old client with dementia.

Following hearings and a debate aired in the media, the Judicial Conduct Committee ruled that Coffey be censured and suspended for three months.

At first, the judge and her attorney insisted that mere censure would be adequate discipline in the case. More recently, they have come around to the idea that the three-month suspension might be acceptable punishment after all.

Let’s set aside the arrogance displayed by a person – a judge, mind you – opining on the adequacy or inadequacy of the punishment that awaits her. What is particularly galling in this case is the judge’s arrogance toward the justice system itself.

Judge Coffey is not only accused of, but admits to, engaging in extremely questionable shenanigans sparked by the ethically bankrupt actions of her husband. In fact, her actions in the matter can only be described as ethically vacuous. Judge Coffey could choose either the right way or the wrong way of dealing with her husband’s assets. She chose the wrong way.

Judge Coffey is not a newcomer to the bench. She has been a judge since being appointed by then-Gov. Judd Gregg in 1991. She has even served on the Judicial Conduct Committee. In other words, she has no excuse for her behavior.

Gov. John Lynch and others have called for the judge’s resignation. We would like to add our voice to that effort.

We also endorse the efforts of lawmakers who stand ready to introduce legislation to remove her from the bench if she doesn’t choose to step down voluntarily.