A well-known defense attorney who insulted a Derby Superior Court judge was slapped with a 120-day suspension earlier this month.
In a five-page ruling issued Jan. 2, Waterbury Superior Court Judge Salvatore Agati said Middlebury lawyer Rob Serafinowicz’s “baseless assault” on Judge Burton Kaplan threatened to undermine the administration of justice.
Serafinowicz, who has no prior record of discipline, is appealing the suspension, which his attorney said Friday is “wildly disproportionate to the offense.”
Serafinowicz accused the judge of having a vendetta against him since his successful defense of an Ansonia cop accused of stealing a garden hose from the police department.
Judge Kaplan didn’t preside at the March 2010 trial in the garden hose case, but handled some earlier court dates.
Patricia King, the state’s Chief Displinary Counsel, filed a complaint against Serafinowicz in March 2012 at Superior Court in Waterbury, days after Serafinowicz gave an interview to the Valley Indy and New Haven Register outside the Derby courthouse during which he lashed out at Judge Kaplan.
He went so far as to call the judge a “disgrace.”
Serafinowicz was in court that day to defend a Derby Middle School dean accused of bringing narcotics to the school.
Months before, he had filed a motion asking Judge Kaplan to recuse himself from the LaRovera case, citing a complaint he had filed against the judge with the state’s Judicial Review Council.
But, according to Judge Agati’s ruling, Judge Kaplan was never told about Serafinowicz’s complaint because the complaint was never really pending — Serafinowicz didn’t gave the Judicial Review Council additional information it needed to process the document, which was sent back to him.
And Serafinowicz appeared before Judge Kaplan in the LaRovera case five times without referencing his motion for the judge to recuse himself, according to the ruling, which cites the fact that he told the Valley Indy about his “complaint” against Kaplan Feb. 8, 2012.
“This statement to the press was untrue as there was no pending complaint against Judge Kaplan,” Agati’s ruling said.
In his ruling against Serafinowicz, Judge Agati called Serafinowicz’s comments about Judge Kaplan “demeaning and derogatory.”
Last March Serafinowicz signed an affidavit in which he denied “some or all” of the allegations, but acknowledged there was “sufficient evidence to prove by clear and convincing evidence” that he “made statements of fact known to be false, or with reckless disregard for the truth,” about Judge Kaplan.
He also there was sufficient evidence to prove he “engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice” by not modifying his recusal motion after the complaint he filed against Judge Kaplan after it was returned to him.
The ruling chided Serafinowicz for disrespecting the judge.
“The court is guided by the principle that it is the court’s inherent function to preserve public respect for our judiciary by protecting it from unwarranted and inappropriate attacks,” Judge Agati wrote in his ruling . “This responsibility as it pertains to this case is magnified by the fact that the baseless assault on the judiciary was made by a member of our legal profession.”
The judge ordered Serafinowicz to serve a 120-day suspension from practicing law to begin Feb. 1.
In addition, Judge Agati ordered Serafinowicz to complete a course on legal ethics and professional responsibility.
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Reached by phone Friday, Serafinowicz declined comment and referred questions to Pattis.
Pattis said Friday afternoon that he had filed an appeal of the suspension, calling it “wildly disproportionate to the offense.”
“He doesn’t deserve suspension,” Pattis said. “He’s a fantastic lawyer.”
Regarding Serafinowicz’s comments about Kaplan, Pattis said: “Everybody loses their temper from time to time.”
Pattis said Serafinowicz “tried to make peace” by signing the affidavit last March conceding there was evidence to find he violated the state’s Professional Rules of Conduct for lawyers.
“But if it’s war they want, it’s war they’ll have,” Pattis said.
Assistant Chief Disciplinary Counsel Desi Imetovski said Monday that Pattis had filed a motion to stay, or postpone, Serafinowicz’s suspension pending an appeal.
She said her office was preparing a reply to Pattis’ motion Monday, and that Judge Agati’s punishment of Serafinowicz was fair.
“We feel the judge made the right call in this case,” she said.
Two of Serafinowicz’s clients also rose to his defense Friday.
Mustafa Salahuddin, the former Ansonia cop who Serafinowicz successfully defended on a charge of stealing a garden hose from the police department, said Serafinowicz’s defense in his case was “stellar.”
Loren Casertano, a former Shelton cop Serafnowicz defended against charges of theft and drug possession, also lauded Serafinowicz Friday.
“He’s a good lawyer who does what’s he says he’ll do,” Casertano, who settled several claims against the city in October 2012, said. “I feel I’d still be in court if it wasn’t for Rob.”