CONCORD, New Hampshire — Trustees of the New Hampshire Judicial Retirement Plan are asking a judge to dismiss a federal lawsuit from former Rockingham County Superior Court judge Patricia Coffey who sued seeking an annual $89,604 pension, more than $400,000 in back-pension pay and health insurance.
Coffey resigned in 2008 after the state 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.
In June, she filed a four-count federal lawsuit seeking to overturn a 2015 vote by the trustees of the New Hampshire Judicial Retirement Plan to deny her pension application.
The trustees last week filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the fourth count in Coffey’s lawsuit. That count alleges she is entitled to a pension under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. The trustees counter in the new motion that the benefits Coffey seeks are in a government plan, which is exempt from ERISA. Coffey in return filed a motion seeking more time to respond to the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire.
Coffey’s lawsuit reports she’s now 64, lives in California and was a superior court judge for 16 1/2 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. She states her final year’s salary was $126,203, so she’s entitled to an annual pension of $89,604.
Coffey is 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 trustees found she was not employed as a judge at the time of her retirement age, while Coffey disputes that interpretation of law. Coffey counters she was vested in the retirement plan because she had the 15 years of minimum service when she reached age 60.
Six months after she resigned as a Superior Court judge, Coffey was again the subject of 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, a public reprimand, for the violations.