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Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Michelle Tuccitto Sullo of the CT LAW TRIBUNE reports as follows:

Connecticut lawmakers are considering a bill that calls for more severe penalties for anyone convicted of threatening a judge. While the proposal follows a high-profile case in which a man described in an email the hypothetical trajectory of a bullet aimed at a judge's bedroom, officials say that about a dozen Connecticut judges receive threats each year. 

The bill, "An Act Concerning Enhanced Penalties for Threatening a Judge," is before the Judiciary Committee.

"In general, threats against anyone are unacceptable," said state Rep. William Tong, a Stamford attorney who is co-chair of the Judiciary Committee. "Judges serve the public in what are often contentious situations. We want to make sure they are protected from threats on their life. At times, the level of debate and commentary about judges can be heated, and it is not uncommon for people to cross the line."

Currently, first-degree threatening is a class D felony, which carries a maximum of five years imprisonment. Under the proposal, first-degree threatening, if the threat is aimed at a judge, would be considered a class C felony, which would mean up to 10 years in prison.

Under the current law, second-degree threatening is a class A misdemeanor, which has a maximum penalty of one year in prison. The proposal is to make it a class E felony if the threat is against a judge, increasing the maximum penalty to three years in prison.

The stiffer penalties would apply for a threat against any state Superior Court, Appellate Court or Supreme Court judge. It also would apply to federal judges, state referees and a judge of another state.

Tong noted the recent case involving Edward Taupier of Cromwell, who was convicted of first-degree threatening in connection with an alleged threat against Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Bozzuto. Taupier was sentenced in January to 18 months in prison.

Bozzuto was the judge handling Taupier's divorce case. The email in question was sent to individuals involved in family court reform efforts, and was not sent to Bozzuto, though she later learned about it. The email had information about how Bozzuto's bedroom is 245 yards away from a cemetery, which could provide concealment, and described in detail a bullet's trajectory from a shooting distance of 250 yards, court documents show.

At Taupier's sentencing, Bozzuto spoke about the fear she has experienced over the incident, and she said she still waits for the day when she is home and not worried about Taupier lying in wait.

Taupier maintains he was exercising his right to free speech, and he is appealing.

"The language in the Taupier case was scary," Tong said. "We want to make sure our judges are safe and protected."

Taupier's attorney, Rachel Baird of Torrington, has said her client was just venting his frustrations with Bozzuto, and he never intended to harm her.

In response to this legislative proposal to increase the penalty for threatening a judge in Connecticut, Baird said: "Given that Mr. Taupier has been under house arrest since September 2014 with no end in sight, and an 18-month jail sentence awaits for speech that was never conveyed to a judge, I would venture to say that we already have a far different standard for judges in Connecticut. Why bother passing a law?"

According to Baird, she believes this proposal is in response to the Taupier case, and a stiffer penalty could potentially stifle free speech. However, William Dunlap, professor of law at Quinnipiac University, said the legislation should be able to draw the line between free speech and unprotected threats. "Criticizing judges is one thing, threatening them is another," Dunlap said. "The bill is for punishing threatening, and that is not protected speech."

Dunlap noted there are other instances in which a victim's profession is considered an aggravating factor, such as if someone murders a police officer.

"In this bill, if a judge is the victim, it would be considered an aggravating circumstance and it raises the penalty, and that is not unusual," Dunlap said.

The state Judicial Branch didn't have exact statistics readily available on how often state judges have been the target of threats.

"Last year, there were about a dozen threats to judges that we are aware of," said court system spokeswoman Rhonda Stearley-Hebert. "The safety of our judges is of concern. "The Judicial Branch very much appreciates the co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee proposing this bill."

Judicial Branch officials plan to submit testimony when the bill is scheduled for a public hearing, according to Stearley-Hebert. No hearing date has been scheduled yet.

Robert L. Holzberg, a retired Superior Court judge who leads the alternative dispute resolution practice at Pullman & Comley in Hartford, said he never encountered any threats during his time as a judge, in which he handled a range of civil and criminal cases. Still, he said, "this proposal seems reasonable. If an individual feels they can achieve a better outcome by making threats, the very pillars of our justice system are undermined. Our justice system is founded on the proposition that judges will make decisions free of bias, threats or intimidation."

Another retired Connecticut state judge, who asked not to be identified, said family court cases can be particularly contentious. The judge reported that most family court judges have been the subject of threatening comments, to the point of it even having a chilling effect on their desire to continue the work.

There have been other high-profile cases involving threats against judges who work in Connecticut in recent years which resulted in arrests.

Garrett Santillo of Florida was charged in 2014 with mailing death threats to several individuals in Connecticut, including two federal judges. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Chatigny received a letter at his home address in July 2014, demanding he vindicate an individual in an unsolved New Haven homicide. The letter indicated, "We can still track you to wherever you go and will kill you if you don't follow what this letter instructs." Santillo also threatened to kill U.S. District Court Judge Janet Bond Arterton, court documents show. Santillo pleaded guilty to one count of mailing a threatening communication, and he awaits sentencing in U.S. District Court.

Roland Prejean, a Thomaston resident when he was arrested, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in 2013 to five years and eight months in prison, for mailing numerous threatening letters in 2010. According to the U.S. Attorney's office, one of the letters was sent to a Superior Court judge in New London, and included a substance that was represented to be "Liquid Anthrax."

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