KEVIN L. HOFFKINS
September 13, 2018
to collect unpaid legal fees, and for other relief, brought
to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield,
where the defendant filed a counterclaim; thereafter, the
court, Radcliffe, J., granted the plaintiff's
motion for summary judgment as to the defendant's
counterclaim; subsequently, the defendant filed an amended
counterclaim; thereafter, the matter was tried to the jury
before Krumeich, J.; subsequently, the court,
Krumeich, J., denied the defendant's motion for
disqualification; verdict and judgment for the plaintiff on
the complaint and counterclaim, from which the defendant
appealed to this court. Affirmed.
Hart, self-represented, the appellant (defendant).
Anthony B. Corleto, with whom, on the brief, was James E. C.
Siewert, for the appellee (plaintiff).
Alvord, Moll and Eveleigh, Js.
action for the collection of unpaid legal fees, the named
defendant, Dianne Hart-D'Amato, appeals from the judgment
of the trial court, rendered after a jury trial, in favor of
the plaintiff, Kevin L. Hoffkins. On appeal, the defendant
claims that the trial court abused its discretion when it (1)
denied her motion for disqualification of the trial judge,
and (2) precluded relevant evidence offered by the
defendant.We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the
judgment of the trial court.
jury reasonably could have found the following facts. The
defendant was a party to a marital dissolution action filed
in 2011. During the summer of 2012, the defendant retained
the plaintiff to represent her. The plaintiff served as the
defendant's counsel for more than one year; the
defendant, however, failed to make any payments to the
plaintiff beyond the initial retainer. Over the course of the
representation, the attorney-client relationship broke down,
and the plaintiff filed a motion to withdraw his appearance,
which the court granted on September 14, 2013.
October 30, 2013, the plaintiff commenced the underlying
action against the defendant. In the operative one count
complaint, filed on December 4, 2013, the plaintiff alleged
that the defendant failed to pay approximately $60, 000 in
legal fees stemming from his representation of the defendant
in the dissolution proceeding. In the defendant's amended
answer, she asserted a number of special defenses, along with
a six count counterclaim alleging, inter alia, professional
negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
an eleven day jury trial, the defendant sought to introduce
as evidence a transcript from an August 25, 2014 hearing on a
motion to strike that contained statements made by the
plaintiff that were relevant to her theory of defense. For
the reasons discussed in part I of this opinion, the trial
court did not admit the transcript as a full trial exhibit.
Throughout trial, the defendant continued to argue that the
entire transcript should be admitted as a full exhibit
because it contained relevant facts. When the court refused
to admit the transcript as a full trial exhibit, the
defendant filed a written motion to disqualify the trial
judge, alleging, inter alia, that he was hiding facts from
the jury by excluding the August 25, 2014 transcript and by
excessively sequestering the jury during the presentation of
evidence. The court issued a written order denying the
motion, stating in part that legal argument between parties
is not evidence and, therefore, excusing the jury during
evidentiary colloquies regarding admissibility was
reasonable. The jury found for the plaintiff with respect to
his breach of contract claim and the defendant's
counterclaims. The court accepted the verdict and rendered
judgment in accordance therewith. This appeal followed.
Additional facts will be provided as necessary.
defendant's first claim on appeal is that the trial court
erred when it denied her motion for disqualification of a
judicial authority. Specifically, the defendant argues that
the court demonstrated openly biased behavior when it
excessively sequestered the jury, made adverse evidentiary
rulings against her, and coached the plaintiff with respect
to his testimony. We disagree.
first set forth the relevant standard of review.
‘‘Pursuant to our rules of practice; see Practice
Book § 1-22; a judge should disqualify himself from
acting in a matter if it is required by rule 2.11 of the Code
of Judicial Conduct, which provides in relevant part that [a]
judge shall disqualify himself . . . in any proceeding in
which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be
questioned . . . . In applying this rule, [t]he
reasonableness standard is an objective one. Thus, the
question is not only whether the particular judge is, in
fact, impartial but whether a reasonable person would
question the judge's impartiality on the basis of all the
circumstances. . . . Moreover, it is well established that
[e]ven in the absence of actual bias, a judge must disqualify
himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might
reasonably be questioned, because the appearance and the
existence of impartiality are both essential elements of a
fair exercise of judicial authority. . . . Nevertheless,
because the law presumes that duly elected or appointed
judges, consistent with their oaths of office, will perform
their duties impartially . . . and that they are able to put
aside personal impressions regarding a party . . . the burden
rests with the party urging disqualification to show that it
is warranted.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.)
Doe v. West Hartford, 168 Conn.App. 354, 382-83, 147
A.3d 1083 (2016), aff'd, 328 Conn. 172, 177 A.3d 1128
(2018). ‘‘A trial court's ruling on a motion
for disqualification is reviewed for abuse of discretion. . .
. In determining whether there has been an abuse of
discretion, every reasonable presumption should be given in
favor of the correctness of the court's ruling. . . .
Reversal is required only where an abuse of discretion is
manifest or where injustice appears to have been
done.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.)
D'Amato v. Hart-D'Amato, 169 Conn.App. 669,
686, 152 A.3d 546 (2016).
following facts are relevant to our analysis. At trial, the
defendant sought to introduce two transcripts claiming that
they contained sworn testimony from the plaintiff: a
prejudgment remedy hearing transcript from April 3, 2014,
which did, in fact, contain sworn testimony from the
plaintiff; and a transcript from an August 25, 2014 hearing
on a motion to strike filed by the defendant, which contained
legal argument relating to the pleadings. The defendant
argued that the contents of these transcripts would be
sufficient to impeach the plaintiff. After excusing the jury,
the court canvassed the defendant with respect to the exhibit
and asked the defendant whether the August 25, 2014
transcript contained sworn testimony of the plaintiff. The
defendant answered in the affirmative. On that basis,
the court, without objection from the plaintiff, admitted the
August 25, 2014 transcript as a full trial exhibit. Some
moments later, while the court was still reviewing the
exhibit, the court attempted to clarify whether the August
25, 2014 transcript, in fact, contained sworn
testimony. The court examined the exhibit and
observed that the transcript did not contain party statements
exclusively, but also, legal argument with respect to the
pleadings. The court, sua sponte, revised its initial ruling
and admitted the August 25, 2014 transcript for
identification purposes only. The court stated that if the
defendant wanted to offer certain statements made by the
plaintiff, she could do so, but explained that the entire
transcript would not be admitted as a full trial exhibit
because it contained legal argument. On October 20, 2016,
after numerous colloquies relating to the August 25, 2014
transcript, the court allowed a redacted version to be
entered into evidence as an admission of a party opponent.
Despite this ruling, the defendant continued to claim that
the court was hiding facts from the jury, which she argued
constituted overt judicial bias.
motion for disqualification, the defendant's primary
claim was that the trial judge excessively sequestered the
jury during the evidentiary colloquies regarding the August
25, 2014 transcript and, therefore, prevented the jury from
hearing all material facts relating to her claim that the
plaintiff perjured himself. The court denied the motion in a
written order, stating in relevant part:
‘‘Excusing the jury when the parties are arguing
evidentiary objections was reasonable. Argument is not
evidence. The transcript of the [motion to strike] ...