Conn. Superior Court Judge Alice Bruno hasn’t been to work in two years but still banked $400,000

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HARTFORD, CT – As Ukrainian American comedian Yakov Smirnoff would say, “What a country!”

Where else could you be a judge, never set foot in your courtroom, never hear a case nor decide a fate yet pull in more than $400,000?

Unfortunately, it’s no joke and the citizens of Connecticut, where Alice Bruno supposedly holds a job as a Superior Court judge, deserve a little justice by way of an explanation and possibly Bruno’s removal or suspension.

Bruno was confirmed as a judge in February 2016 and served unremarkably for three and a half years. After that, she stopped showing up and last took the bench in November 2019. She went on medical leave after she received cardiac testing related to the stress of her job, court documents show.

Judge Bruno has continued to collect her full salary while steadfastly refusing to come to work. She offered an explanation but it raises more questions than it answers: She said she suffers from a “debilitating medical condition” but refused to elaborate.

In documents submitted to the court in her defense, Bruno claimed that her supervisors were hostile toward her and her request for accommodation, and that their hostility exacerbated her medical condition.

After two years of Bruno apparently ignoring her responsibilities as a judge, the Connecticut Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an order that opened an official investigation into her conduct. The order is an unprecedented proceeding that will decide if Bruno violated Connecticut’s code of judicial conduct as it relates to promoting confidence in the judiciary, giving precedence to office and competency.

Why it took more than two years to get to this point is another mystery attached to this case.

The court sealed Bruno’s medical records at her request on March 22 but a newly appointed investigator will have access to those and other records.

Risking annoying the court to which she would plead her case, Bruno sought to be excused from her hearing on the matter. On April 4, the day before the hearing, Bruno’s attorney filed a motion to excuse Bruno’s personal appearance. Bruno claimed that she:

“. . .once again required emergency medical treatment arising from the circumstances surrounding her request for accommodation that has been ongoing for nearly two years.”

The court denied Bruno’s request to absent herself from the hearing, but permitted Bruno’s attorney, Jacques Parenteau, to assist her in answering questions at the proceeding.

During the hearing, Justice Andrew J. McDonald asked Parenteau:

“You’ve indicated that over the last two-plus years, Judge Bruno has not performed any services on behalf of the people of Connecticut in exchange for the $400,000 she has received. Is that correct?”

Parenteau responded that the pay received by his client amounted to an accommodation for her medical need.

When Bruno addressed the court, she said that her supervisors’ suggestion that she seek a disability retirement was “a daunting and devastating experience.” Bruno explained:

“And the unfortunate circumstance is that I ended up with all the indicia of someone who could not perform my function in the way that it should best be performed. I thank you for your courtesy and giving me the chance to talk and speak and there is nothing I want more than to serve the people of Connecticut fairly and appropriately.”

The state high court issued its ruling Tuesday, ordering Bruno to cooperate with the investigation or risk further disciplinary proceedings. It stated:

“Specifically, the purpose of the Investigation is to obtain information relevant to determine whether Judge Bruno’s conduct in connection with her performance of, or failure to perform, judicial functions since her appointment as a

“Superior Court Judge in 2015 violates, inter alia, Rules 1.2 (Promoting Confidence in the Judiciary); 2.1 (Giving Precedence to the Duties of Judicial Office); and 2.5 (Competence, Diligence, and Cooperation) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Investigation shall be confidential.”

The court appointed Connecticut Deputy Chief State’s Attorney and Inspector General Robert Devlin to conduct the investigation. The court directed Bruno to “fully and promptly cooperate” with his investigatory demands.

Devlin was granted wide access to materials and personnel, including the chief court administrator, all judges and any judicial staff. He was also given unfettered access to Bruno’s medical records and is permitted to seek an independent medical evaluation of Bruno, the order shows.

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Don’t blame me: Judge says 100 instances of her misconduct on the bench are due to menopause and sleep apnea

April 14, 2022

COLUMBUS, OH – A Cleveland judge admits she has committed more than 100 serious incidents of misconduct over a period of two years and if that doesn’t pique your interest, perhaps her defense will: Menopause made me do it.

Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Pinkey Susan Carr’s struggles with menopause and sleep apnea have created within her a “generalized anxiety disorder,” her lawyers argued before the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct has recommended that Carr’s law license be suspended for two years. Her lawyers are this week pleading her case.

Judge Carr is accused of misbehavior from the end of 2017 to 2020, with one highly notable event being the issuing of arrest warrants for defendants who didn’t appear for court because of government-mandated stay-at-home orders during the pandemic.

She also jailed defendants without “suitable” reason, according to the Board of Professional Conduct, which had filed a 58-page report with the Supreme Court of Ohio detailing the sometimes-bizarre orders coming from the Carr bench.

Carr has been a judge with Cleveland Municipal Court since January 2012 and previously served as a prosecuting attorney for Cuyahoga County.

Cleveland attorney Nicholas Froning told the court:

“There is no question that the conduct engaged in by Judge Pinkey Carr was egregious.” 

In case you’re confused, Froning is the judge’s attorney.

He appeared to dive head first into the culpability portion of the case, essentially saying, “Your Honor, my client is guilty,” because the misconduct was otherwise difficult to defend. The argument isn’t “did she do it” but rather, “why did she do it?”

Carr is accused of dozens of instances of misconduct that fall into five broad categories and counts:

  • Issuance Capiases and False Statements
  • Ex Parte Communications, Improper Plea Bargaining, Arbitrary Dispositions
  • Improper use of Capiases and Bond to Compel Payment of Fines and Court Costs
  • Public Confidence, Lack of Decorum and Dignity Consistent with Judicial Office
  • Abuse of Contempt Power and Failure to Recuse

The first count concerns events in March 2020, after the administrative and presiding judge for the Cleveland Municipal Court issued an order  suspending courthouse activity in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The report filed by the board states that despite the order, Carr did not reschedule her cases and issued warrants for defendants who failed to appear. She also “rewarded” defendants who did show up in court by waiving fines and costs and rescinding warrants.

In the filing, the board accuses Carr of lying to two media outlets, claiming that she had not issued warrants for people who did not come to court.

“In brief, Respondent very publicly flouted her disregard of an administrative order that was designed to ensure the safety of the public and the court’s personnel during the pandemic,” the report states.

“She punished members of the public who followed that order and lied about it to the press and to the presiding and administrative judge of her court. This created the very danger that administrative order was intended to prevent—the spread of the coronavirus to the public and court’s staff by way of open court hearings.”

The board’s report accuses Carr of routinely conducting hearings without the prosecutor present “to avoid compliance with procedural safeguards without interference from the city’s legal counsel.”

Carr also recommended pleas to unrepresented defendants with no prosecutor present, accepted pleas without explanation or discussion, routinely dismissed cases after unilaterally entering no contest pleas on behalf of defendants, and waived fines and costs without inquiry as to defendants’ ability to pay.

The board accused Carr of ignoring the court’s established procedure to set up contracts to pay fines and costs at the time of sentencing. The report alleges she set her own “Ability to Pay Hearings” without notifying the defendant or clerk’s office, then would issue a capias ordering the arrest of the defendant and set a bond.

The board took issue with Carr’s “lack of decorum and dignity consistent with judicial office,” accusing her of wearing inappropriate attire to the courtroom, such as tank tops, shorts, T-shirts and sneakers.

The report states that Carr also frequently references “Paradise Valley,” a Starz television series about a Mississippi strip club, when speaking with her staff and defendants, “all this while lawyers and their clients waited to have their matters resolved and the public watched.”

The board’s report also states that Carr “routinely speaks in an undignified manner,” berating defendants who call her “ma’am,” and joking about accepting bribes and kick-backs from defendants. The report states Carr:

“. . .does this in a joking manner, but it is clear from the reaction of the defendants who come before her that they, and presumably others in the courtroom, do not always perceive it as a joke.” 

The report details one case in 2019 during which Carr charged a defendant with contempt of court, alleging that the defendant called her a disrespectful term in the courtroom when the defendant had actually made the statements outside the courtroom, and they were relayed to the judge by the court staff. Carr then failed to recuse herself in the contempt case in spite of her involvement in the matter.

A disciplinary complaint was filed against Carr in September 2020, and at the urging of her counsel, she consulted a psychologist in May 2021.

At a disciplinary hearing in August, Carr told a panel that the effects of sleep apnea and menopause led to her “intemperate behavior on the bench.”

The board’s report states:

“It is difficult to perceive how ridiculing defendants, lawyers, and others in her court, likening herself to a character in a television series about a fictional Mississippi strip club while conducting the court’s business, waiving fines and costs because a defendant was born in the same month as her college friend, suggesting ‘hook-ups’ as a quid pro quo for lenient treatment, dressing in gym attire, and holding court behind a bench littered with the detritus of an adolescent’s bedroom, can be attributed to menopause or lack of sleep. Countless lawyers and judges have dealt with fatigue and menopause during their careers without violating the rules of professional conduct.”

Carr presented expert testimony and a report from a clinical psychologist after she was examined by him, who diagnosed her with “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”

The board took issue with the psychologist’s analysis, concluding there was a conflict of interest because he began serving as Carr’s treating psychotherapist, and because he admitted that he did not review all available material relating to Carr’s care.

The report notes that while Carr appears sincerely regretful of her misconduct, and she is taking steps to address her health issues, she does not escape sanction “simply because her improved conduct does not appear to post an imminent threat to the public interest.”

The board stated that it is recommending a two-year suspension from judicial office without pay for Carr because of her compliance and commitment to a treatment program. Without that, it said, an indefinite suspension would be warranted.

On Monday, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Associated issued a statement in support of the board’s report and recommendation. It reads, in part:

“We support the Board’s recommendation which calls for accountability for the misconduct and will await the final determination by the Supreme Court of Ohio which represents the final step in the disciplinary process.”

In court on Tuesday, Froning argued that the Board of Professional Conduct didn’t apply the legal standard required in determining if Judge Carr’s menopause and sleep apnea contributed to cause her misconduct. The board instead used “attribution” or “causal link.” It was an argument heavy on hair splitting regarding word definitions. Froning, explaining the difference to the justices when one asked, said:

“Causation defined is ‘expresses or implies a cause.’ ” 

“It’s a cause-and-effect relationship, whereas a contribution — contribute is defined as tending to bring a result. . . .in its 58-page report, the panel discusses attribute, discusses a causal link, but does not utilize the word contribution in its analysis.”

After the fourth question trying to figure out why contribution isn’t a subset of causation, the justices seemed frustrated. Patrick Fischer, one of the court justices, asked:

“How did this contribution cause five people to spend 28 days in jail?” 

Froning responded:

“The issue here is that her treaters were mis— essentially mistreating the conditions, causing there to be counteracting issues. So when it comes to sleep apnea, she was unable to get the sleep necessary. When it comes to the menopause, she was dealing with issues wherein she wasn’t able to function to 100 percent.”

Fischer didn’t seem to buy it. He asked:

“How does sleep apnea or menopause contribute to lying?” 

Froning argued:

“Well, it affects her . . . mood; it affects her ability to think. Clearly, it affected numerous areas of her life . . . Everyone reacts differently. One of the arguments of the panel and the board is that thousands of lawyers have suffered from sleep apnea and/or menopause and not engaged in misconduct. I would agree with that. The issue is that everyone reacts differently if we think about.”

Fischer countered that Carr was already being treated at that point, so she misled her lawyer, her character witnesses and her therapists to make her misconduct appear less serious.  These lies, to the lawyer and therapist, demonstrated disturbing dishonesty that pervades response behavior in this case, he added while reading from the board’s report.

Fischer demanded:

“Connect, please, the sleep apnea or menopause to those actions.” 

The Supreme Court of Ohio will make the final determination in Carr’s disciplinary process.

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