CONCORD — Former Rockingham County Superior Court judge Patricia Coffey, who resigned after a punitive suspension, is "in whole or in part" to blame for her ineligibility for a lifetime pension, according to the state Judicial Retirement Plan trustees.
The trustees' argument is included in a new federal court filing by attorney Scott Harris, in response to a federal suit by Coffey, who seeks an annual $89,604 pension, more than $400,000 in back-pension pay and health insurance.
Coffey resigned in 2008 after the Supreme Court suspended her for three years without pay, for helping her husband John Coffey create a trust to hide assets, while he was being disbarred for the financial exploitation of an elderly Rye woman. Coffey was also investigated for 2006 allegations that she fell asleep while presiding over Superior Court cases, was ordered to seek a confidential medical examination and be subject to random monitoring of her courtroom.
She's now suing the trustees for voting in 2015 to deny her judicial pension.
In a response to Coffey's suit, filed this month in the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire, the trustees cite several possible defenses against her claim, including that "to the extent that there was a contractual relationship between the parties, (it is) barred by (Coffey's) own prior material breach of that contract."
The trustees report to the court that Coffey "failed to comply" with a condition of her contract, but do not cite specifics. The trustees also allege the former judge failed to comply with a condition or conditions of state law pertinent to judicial pensions, (RSA 100-C), a lengthy law with 18 sections pertaining to the judicial retirement plan.
Both sides of the debate have been court-ordered to file a schedule for the case by Dec. 26.
Coffey's lawsuit reports she’s 64, lives in California and was a superior court judge for 16˝ years. During that time, she claims, she made mandatory pension contributions and under terms of the plan, is entitled to a pension of 71 percent of her final year’s salary.
Coffey’s suit states her final year’s salary was $126,203, so she’s entitled to an annual pension of $89,604. She’s asking for a jury trial, a finding that the board violated law by denying her pension and that her pension be paid, with back pay. She’s seeking compensation for lost health benefits for the past four years, enrollment in the judicial health plan and reimbursement for legal costs and attorney’s fees.
The lawsuit states Coffey was denied the pension because the board found she was not employed as a judge at the time of her retirement age, while Coffey disputes that interpretation of applicable law.
Six months after she resigned as a Superior Court judge, Coffey was the subject of a judicial reprimand. Then the N.H. Supreme Court’s Judicial Conduct Committee found she violated judicial code of conduct by drawing a salary from a private company, while also collecting full judicial pay, while suspended and under investigation for previous impropriety.
In a statement, the JCC announced Coffey violated three canons of the judicial code of conduct by collecting full-time pay for document retrieval services for a New York City firm at the same time she collected her judge’s pay. Coffey signed a document accepting the JCC’s findings and agreed she would be the subject of censure and a public reprimand, for the violations.