STATEWIDE GRIEVANCE COMMITTEE v. NANCY BURTON, SC 18602
Judicial District of Danbury
Attorneys; Discipline; Whether Trial Court Properly Found that Defendant Violated Rules 8.2 (a) and 8.4 (4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Disbarred Defendant from the Practice of Law. In December of 1995, the defendant, who was a member of the Connecticut bar, wrote a letter to the then chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court accusing three Superior Court judges of participating in civil actions "in a manner presenting the stark appearance of judicial corruption" and requesting that the court investigate their conduct. Although the defendant claimed that she had "witnesses, documentation and transcripts" to support her allegations, the only evidence she produced was her own affidavit. The chief justice subsequently informed the plaintiff by letter that the court had reviewed her request and had decided not to conduct a formal investigation. In December of 2003, the statewide grievance committee filed a presentment complaint against the defendant, alleging that the accusations contained in her letter were false and that her conduct violated rules 8.2 (a) and 8.4 (4) of the rules of professional conduct. Rule 8.2 (a) provides that "[a] lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge." Rule 8.4 (4) provides that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to "[e]ngage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice." The trial court found that the committee had carried its burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant violated rules 8.2 (a) and 8.4 (4). The court also found that the defendant failed to produce any credible evidence to support her contention that the allegations in her letter were based upon an objective, reasonable belief that the allegations were true. The court noted that the defendant's citation of wrongdoing by the judges consisted of references to prior rulings by the judges, or outcomes of prior cases or proceedings over which they presided, which were adverse to the defendant or her clients. As a result, the court disbarred the defendant from the practice of law in this state and prohibited her from applying for reinstatement until five years after she satisfies all of the conditions for reinstatement to the bar imposed on her as a result of a prior disbarment. The defendant appeals from the trial court's decision, claiming that the accusations in her letter were true, that she submitted the letter in good faith and that the contents of her letter were protected speech on account of her duty as an attorney to submit grievances concerning judicial misconduct to the proper authorities. The defendant also contends that the presentment subjected her to duplicate discipline because the pendency of the presentment was cited as an aggravating factor supporting the defendant's prior disbarment. The defendant also argues that the trial court displayed prejudice and bias toward her throughout the proceedings and that the court improperly granted, on the ground of judicial immunity, a motion to quash subpoenas that she served on the judges in an attempt to obtain their testimony at trial.