Judge fines civil rights lawyer

BRIDGEPORT – A Danbury civil rights lawyer was fined by a federal judge for lying in in a lawsuit that claimed Bridgeport city officials have a policy against hiring African-American lawyers.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Meyer threw out Josephine Smalls Miller’s discrimination lawsuit against the city and fined her $1,500. He also referred the case to the Statewide Bar Counsel, the state office that reviews complaints against lawyers and can recommend other disciplinary action including disbarment.

Miller had claimed in her lawsuit the city’s Board of Education and City Attorney Mark Anastasi maintained a policy of hiring only non African-American lawyers even though she knew they have two on the payroll.

“From what I can tell, Attorney Miller is fervently devoted to a noble objective of redressing discrimination. But no fervor for one’s case may justify false statement,” Judge Meyer ruled. “My hope is that with time Attorney Miller will appreciate the limits that truth and the rules of professional conduct impose for all cases upon the zealous advocacy of counsel.”

In addition to sanctions, city officials had also asked the judge to award the city $21,450 in attorney’s fees and costs for defending the case but that was denied.

Miller was unavailable for comment.

“It is a serious thing to be accused of racial discrimination; particularly when the accusations are, as Judge Meyer found in his ruling, knowingly, intentionally, and sweepingly false,” said Associate City Attorney Betsy Edwards.  “The defendants are vindicated and gratified that the court recognized the demonstrable falsity of these allegations, and took appropriate action to remedy the damage they caused.”

Andrew Cimmino was fired in 2010 as principal of Thomas Hooker School after twice being investigated by the state Department of Children and Families for allegations he abused students. Those allegations had been brought by two former school employees, one who was later fired for allegedly stealing money from an after school program – a complaint made by Cimmino. DCF later cleared him of the abuse allegations.

Cimmino, represented by Miller, was later awarded $126,000 by a Superior Court jury in his defamation lawsuit against the two former school employees but a judge later threw that verdict out. The two former employees are suing Cimmino in federal court for getting them fired.

Miller sued the city of Bridgeport claiming she was being discriminated against because the city would not pay her to represent Cimmino.

“The defendants have paid Caucasian attorneys for the legal services performed by them, unlike its refusal to pay for such services performed by plaintiff,” Miller stated in her lawsuit. “The conduct of defendants has deprived plaintiff of the same right to make and enforce contracts as is enjoyed by white citizens.”

But in affidavits filed in federal court, Errol Skyers, an African-American lawyer employed by the city states he has known Miller for 10 years and in fact spent five days on trial with her in his capacity as a lawyer representing the city. Michel Bayonne, an African-American lawyer and director of a law firm used by the city, states he and Miller were on opposite sides in at least seven different city cases.

Miller represented city Board of Education members in their successful opposition of the state takeover of the board. She also represented a city teacher who successfully claimed he was retaliated against after he refused the principal’s order to falsify students’ grades and more recently she represented a city school principal who was suspended for six months for dragging children along a school hallway.

Daniel Tepfer