Hamilton County Judge Tatiana Coffinger reprimanded for inappropriate political activity

ALBANY — The state’s judicial watchdog on Tuesday reprimanded a Hamilton County judge who solicited donations for a county Republican fundraiser and whose campaign materials wrongly identified a primary GOP opponent — the prosecutor from the then-district — as a Democrat on a “sample unofficial ballot.”

Hamilton County Judge Tatiana Coffinger, who in 2020 began a 10-year term presiding over county, family and surrogate courts, was sanctioned with a reprimand from the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. Reprimand is the most lenient of the three forms of punishment the monitoring entity can inflict; the most serious options are censorship and revocation.

Judges and judicial candidates are permitted to participate in their own campaigns, but are prohibited under ethical rules from engaging in direct or indirect political activities, including fundraising and creating campaign materials. Coffinger accepted the warning, the commission said.

“Faith in the integrity of our elections and therefore in our elected officials is easily shaken when a candidate knowingly misleads the public into assuming high office, even though we have not been able to determine that the misinformation has produces the margin of victory,” commission administrator Robert Tembeckjian said in a statement, “Judge Coffinger should have known not to endorse a patently inaccurate sample ballot, and it good that she accepts responsibility.”

Coffinger, an Albany Law School graduate and a lawyer since 2001, served as a city judge for Indian Lake from July 2018 to December 2018. In 2019, she ran for county judge. On four occasions, Coffinger posted an invitation to the Hamilton County Republicans’ Meet the Candidates Picnic on his campaign’s Facebook page.

Ticket prices ranged from $12 to $35. And Coffinger spoke at the June 22, 2019 fundraiser, which generated nearly $1,800 in profit for the Hamilton County Republican Committee, the commission said.

Coffinger told the commission she believed the event was a social occasion organized to thank party committee members and introduce candidates.

“She recognizes in retrospect that she should have inquired and known it was a fundraiser, which would have prevented her from issuing the invitation or advertising the event,” said the committee in its decision.

Coffinger faced two opponents in a June 25, 2019, Republican Party primary: longtime Hamilton County District Attorney Marsha King Purdue and James W. Hyde IV.

A letter sent by Coffinger’s campaign included a “sample unofficial ballot” that identified Purdue on the Democratic line.

The commission said Coffinger knew Purdue — the county’s district attorney since 2012 and a registered Republican — would not appear on the primary ballot as a Democrat. He said the misleading mail was sent about a week before the primary to about 1,600 to 1,800 registered Republican voting households in Hamilton County.

Coffinger won the primary with 748 votes. Purdue received 351 votes. Hyde received 200. In the general election, Coffinger beat Purdue 1,446-1,020. While Purdue was Republican, she carried the county Democratic Party line in the general election, the commission said.

“At the time she got this mail out, (Coffinger) knew that her opponent was a registered Republican and that he was
run against her in the Republican primary,” Determination said. “Such misleading conduct was inappropriate for a judicial candidate and (Coffinger) violated his ethical obligations.

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