By ADAM GROFF
Union Leader Correspondent
Saturday, Dec. 31, 2005
Brentwood - A special panel of the Judicial Conduct Committee will meet next week to consider a complaint filed against Rockingham Superior Court Judge Patricia Coffey alleging that Coffey dozed through portions of a sexual assault trial in June before sentencing the defendant to 23 to 46 years in prison.
Dover resident Melissa Spinner filed the complaint Oct. 5, less than a week after Coffey sentenced her husband, Donald Spinner Jr., to prison after a jury found Spinner guilty of six counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and two counts of felonious sexual assault.
In her complaint, Melissa Spinner wrote that Coffey "slept through portions of Mr. Spinner's trial," which lasted from June 27 to 30.
"I witnessed this along with the jury, as well as the entire courtroom," wrote Spinner, adding that "Mr. Spinner's public defender informed us that Judge Coffey 'does this all the time.'"
The public defender, Richard Samdperil, could not be reached yesterday for comment.
Because Coffey is a member of the Judicial Conduct Committee, a whole new temporary committee had to be impaneled to review the complaint, said Anthony McManus, the committee's executive secretary.
"A special panel did have to be appointed to avoid any conflict," said McManus.
McManus said he could not comment on the particulars of Spinner's complaint. He said the panel will meet for the first time next week.
In support of her allegation, Melissa Spinner obtained a copy of a memorandum from Samdperil's office detailing the results of a post-trial poll of jurors requesting their thoughts about various aspects of Spinner's trial.
Six of 13 jurors responded to the poll. Of those six, two made comments about Coffey falling asleep during the trial.
The memorandum, written by the legal assistant who conducted the poll, quoted one juror, Mary Fortuna, as saying the jurors got a "kick out of Coffey nodding off" during the trial. A second juror, Donna Kolber-Simonds, reported that "she noticed that the judge kept falling asleep during the trial."
In an interview yesterday, Melissa Spinner said she and her husband, who is now in Concord state prison, are going to appeal the verdict, both because they maintain his innocence and because they believe Coffey's conduct prevented him from receiving a fair trial.
"During part of that trial, she was literally falling asleep on the bench - she was not snoring, but she would nod off," said Melissa Spinner. "She could have missed a key piece of testimony. It's the integrity of it all. Imagine if we had fallen asleep - she'd be mad. I guess it's kind of like an insult to me and my family - like, Oh, I can't be bothered, I think I'll just take a nap. How can she live with herself, knowing the hefty sentence she gave out?"
Coffey did not respond to a phone message left at her home last night seeking comment.
County Attorney Jim Reams, whose office prosecuted the case, also could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Coffey's husband, John J. Coffey, was disbarred by the state Supreme Court on Aug. 12 for overcharging an elderly client with dementia by around $40,000 and getting her to sell him her oceanfront cottage in Rye in lieu of payment.