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Monday, April 21, 2008

Connecticut's Court Chaos Nearing NY's Crisis

Local Lawyer's "Affront" to Two Judges Triggers Five-Month Suspension
The Connecticut Law Tribune by Douglas S. Malan - April 21, 2008

When attorney Jeffrey D. Cedarfield refused two judges' orders to commence jury selection in Waterbury Superior Court, he stated that he was fighting to secure a fair hearing for his client, Allstate. Instead, he jeopardized his livelihood. Cedarfield received a five-month suspension beginning May 1, and Hartford Superior Court Judge John J. Langenbach ordered him to send letters of apology to Waterbury Judges Salvatore C. Agati and Elizabeth A. Gallagher.

Cedarfield will be automatically reinstated Oct. 1, under Langenbach's order. He was admitted to the bar in December 2000 and had no disciplinary history. "If we allow lawyers to ignore direct orders of the court, we're destroying the underpinnings of the entire judicial system," said Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Frank P. Blando, who prosecuted the case.

In February, Cedarfield departed The Law Offices of Joseph Mulshine, in Simsbury, and opened his own practice in Plainville. "I regret the affront to the judicial system," he told the Law Tribune. "Having dealt with Attorney Mulshine as an outsider, I regret having ever been a flag-bearer for that firm." He declined to further discuss his time with Mulshine's firm. Mulshine did not return telephone calls for comment.

Cedarfield was defending Allstate in an uninsured motorist case in Waterbury Superior Court. The dispute emerged from a pre-trial conference in Agati's chambers in August 2004 that Cedarfield did not attend. A colleague at Mulshine's office requested a continuance. Plaintiff's counsel believed the continuance was intended to allow Allstate's lawyers to consider a settlement; it was understood that Allstate's lawyers would not conduct additional discovery or seek out additional expert witnesses, according to grievance officials' investigations.

The following month, Allstate's lawyers disclosed another expert, and plaintiff's counsel filed a motion to preclude the witness. That matter came before Judge Elizabeth A. Gallagher in October 2006. In an effort to clarify the dispute over additional experts, Gallagher called for testimony from Judge Agati. His recollection of the meeting in his chambers matched that of the plaintiff's counsel, and Gallagher barred the additional witness. The Allstate lawyers then filed a motion to change venue.

Judge Gallagher also heard that motion; that's when Cedarfield raised the possibility that Agati had spoken with the plaintiff's counsel about Agati's possible testimony outside the presence of anyone from the Mulshine firm. Cedarfield suggested that a conversation may have happened during the scheduling of the judge's court appearance.

Judge Gallagher denied the venue change motion, and ordered jury selection to begin. "And at this point," Cedarfield told the judge, "I will refuse to commence jury selection because I just don't think it's right what's going on here." Gallagher responded: "I don't see how you're not getting a fair trial." She later added: "It makes no sense." "It makes sense to my client," Cedarfield replied. Gallagher then took the case back to Agati.

"It's just unprecedented to have the presiding judge take the stand in a case," Cedarfield said to Agati. "That based on the information that I had, that an opinion was offered by yourself…that would have favored the plaintiff in that motion. There's always a risk of ex parte communications in scheduling testimony, if that were done. I don't know if it was." Agati then pointedly asked Cedarfield if he was alleging ex parte communications. "I'm saying, I don't know," Cedarfield responded.

Agati then asked if Cedarfield understood the consequences. Agati said he could enter a default judgment for the plaintiffs, enter sanctions against Cedarfield or refer the lawyer to the Grievance Committee. "I'll give you one minute to think about it," Agati said. "Then tell me whether you still want to refuse to pick a jury." Cedarfield then said: "Yeah, I'm refusing, Your Honor."

Agati entered default judgment and referred Cedarfield to grievance officials. The presentment order, filed last August, states that Cedarfield's evidentiary hearing was consolidated with a grievance complaint against Joseph Mulshine. But because there is no record of discipline against Mulshine, grievance officials are not permitted to discuss any possible complaint against him, said Chief Disciplinary Counsel Mark A. Dubois.

Cedarfield, Agati and the Mulshine law offices also crossed paths in a three-year legal dispute involving Allstate's refusal to pay an expert witness $2,700. Agati told Cedarfield in a hearing last May that Cedarfield may become a witness for the purpose of explaining lengthy delays in Allstate's battle against payment to a Waterbury physician. Allstate agreed to pay the physician last June.


Anonymous said...

what is really going on hear? Is it the attorneys or the Judges who are at fault? How can you really trust any of them?

Anonymous said...

crimes by attorneys frequently run across CT/NY state lines. the reason is: money, money, money.....

Anonymous said...

OCA already has an administrative judge whose birth and about 20 yrs of her upbringing, hail from CONNECTICUT! Her background is evident in her abusive activities in NY STATE..she could care less about anyone she wasn't close to during her formative years!

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