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Supreme Court affirms lawyer’s reprimand

The Supreme Court of Virginia has upheld a bar reprimand of a Virginia Beach lawyer accused of misleading a judge about terms of a federal regulation.

Attorney Judith M. Cofield fought the bar discipline all the way to the high court, insisting that the judge hearing her medical malpractice case was not misled.

In that 2016 malpractice case, Cofield filed a motion opposing a hospital’s fee for allowing access to electronic medical records. She cited language backing her position, attributing the language to the Code of Federal Regulations.

Cofield said she believed the pleading she submitted to Norfolk Circuit Judge Mary Jane Hall was a correct statement of law, even though her primary authority came not from the CFR but from an agency website interpreting the CFR.

“If I know this to be a correct statement of law, I have not knowingly misstated the law,” Cofield told the justices in oral argument April 18. “I was not trying to mislead anybody.”

But Cofield was confronted with her motion, purporting to list elements of a regulation and including an element that was part of an administrative interpretation of the regulation, not part of the regulation itself.

“A failure of communication, or an improper citation, is not a misrepresentation of the law,” Cofield said.

The medical malpractice case ultimately settled, but a three-judge circuit court panel ruled Sept. 27 that Cofield’s pleading “constituted knowingly false statements of the content” of the regulation. The disciplinary panel unanimously imposed an admonition.

The Supreme Court affirmed that sanction May 30 in a published order, Cofield v. Virginia State Bar.