Lawyers for the state’s judicial retirement plan said a former judge who resigned in 2008 after helping her disbarred lawyer husband hide money from the state is not entitled to get nearly a $90,000 annual pension and more than $400,000 in back pay and health coverage.
Patricia Coffey, 64, who now lives in California, last June filed a federal lawsuit against the NH Judicial Retirement Plan and its board of trustees after they turned down her bid for a $89,600-a-year pension.
Coffey had asked the pension be retroactive to October 2013, when she turned 60 years old, which would entitle her to $400,000 worth of post-employment compensation.
In that February 2015 decision against her, the plan’s board said state law requires someone remain on the bench until the date of retirement, said Scott Harris, a lawyer with the McLane law firm, which represents the retirement authority.
Coffey resigned in April 2008 after more than 16 years as a superior court judge. At the time the Supreme Court had suspended her for three years without pay for helping her husband, former state Rep. John Coffey, R-Rye, create a trust to shield money while he was disbarred for financially exploiting a Rye woman.
The Judicial Conduct Commission reprimanded Coffey about six months after she stepped down for drawing a salary from a document retrieval company while she was sitting as a judge on the bench.
The JCC found that Coffey acting as a judge and taking a salary from the New York firm violated three canons of ethical conduct for jurists.
She had also come under investigation in 2006 after allegations she fell asleep while court was in session and was ordered to submit to random monitoring of her courtroom.
Coffey had also served two years each as a district court judge and part-time municipal judge before her promotion to the superior court, where she presided mainly in Rockingham County.
Russell Hilliard, a Portsmouth lawyer and former chairman of the Legislative Ethics Committee, was Coffey’s lead lawyer.
He maintained her years of service entitled her to a pension equal to 71 percent of her final salary, which was $126,200 annually.
The retirement plan permits someone with at least 15 years as a judge to receive a pension upon reaching 60 years old.
But Harris said the law states that judge must put in for retirement right upon leaving the bench and that Coffey did not do that, choosing instead to resign.
Coffey then applied for that pension in January 2015, more than a year after she had turned 60 on Oct. 7, 2013.
Her lawyers maintain that legally she “retired” from state service on April 21, 2008.
Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro dismissed the fourth and final count of Coffey’s lawsuit that she was entitled to relief including future health benefits under the federal ERISA law.
The other counts, which remain active in Coffey’s lawsuit, were that the judicial plan board’s ruling was a breach of contract, a violation of state law and was subject to a declaratory judgment.