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Judge: Family’s suit against Raucci to go to trial

Monday, February 18, 2013
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— A Rotterdam family’s lawsuit against the man convicted of bombing their home moved forward earlier this month, with a judge’s ruling incorporating Steven Raucci’s criminal conviction into the civil case.

The ruling came as the state Court of Appeals is set to rule in the coming weeks, perhaps as early as today, on whether Raucci’s state pension would be available to the victims, should they win the suit.

The civil ruling from state Supreme Court Justice Vito Caruso, filed earlier this month, granted a request from attorneys representing the Capitummino family that Raucci not be allowed to relitigate the facts of the criminal case in the civil case.

Caruso, though, also left open much of the Capitumminos’ case, denying their motion for summary judgment in their favor based upon the criminal verdict. Caruso granted a ruling only on a trespass claim. The remaining claims are to be litigated at trial.

Raucci was convicted after a monthlong trial in 2010 of 18 of 22 counts lodged against him. He was found guilty of numerous criminal acts, including placing bombs on homes or cars, in a series of incidents intended to intimidate people he perceived as enemies or enemies of his friends. No one was injured in any of the incidents.

Raucci served as the Schenectady City School District’s facilities manager and also led the union unit representing the workers he supervised.

It is Raucci’s pension, from his years at the school district, that is at issue in the Court of Appeals case.

The Capitumminos and another Raucci victim, Laura Balogh of Schodack, asked the state Office of Victim Services to freeze Raucci’s pension under the Son of Sam Law for possible payment to them should they win their suits against Raucci. The status of Balogh’s suit could not be determined on Monday, a court holiday.

The issue made it to the Court of Appeals, with Raucci’s attorneys asking the state’s highest court to overturn an Appellate Division ruling allowing his $79,000 annual pension to be seized and held. Raucci’s attorneys are arguing that state pension law supersedes the 2001 update of the Son of Sam Law, making his pension protected from seizure to benefit victims of his crimes.

The court heard arguments on the issue in early January and a ruling was expected this month. The next opportunity for a ruling to be issued is this morning.

It is for the crime against the Capitummino family, first-degree arson, that Raucci drew the longest prison sentence — 20 years to life in prison. The total sentence is 23 years to life.

Raucci was convicted of exploding a device on the family’s door Aug. 26, 2001, believing that his intended target lived there. Actually, the target lived down the street, and Raucci had never seen the Capitumminos.

Steve Capitummino was 15 feet away, on the other side of the door, when the blast went off. His wife, Colleen Capitummino, testified that the experience was terrifying. Steve Capitummino testified that it had a lasting effect on their children.

Caruso found that Raucci had full and fair opportunity to contest the issues at his criminal trial.

The issues, Caruso wrote, “were of great significance in the criminal proceeding and defendant had ample incentive to litigate them.” The ruling essentially adopts the criminal verdict in the civil case, accepting as fact that Raucci did the things he was convicted of.

Raucci, representing himself in the civil matter, only asked for a delay until his criminal appeals were ruled upon and didn’t allege he was denied the opportunity to litigate the issues, Caruso wrote.

In the Capitummino suit, filed in early 2011, the family alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, trespass and negligence/willful misconduct.

Caruso found questions of fact in each of the claims except the trespass claim preserving them for trial.

The question of trespass, he ruled, was proved at trial.

With the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, Caruso found the act met the “extreme and outrageous conduct” requirement but that they weren’t fully litigated in the criminal case, meaning he couldn’t adopt the criminal verdict in that area.

“Likewise,” Caruso wrote, “the Court finds that, given the factual circumstances noted by the defendant, wherein the plaintiffs did not immediately perceive what had transpired, coupled with the photographs of the front door, submitted by the defendant, the Court finds that questions of fact are presented on the issue of severe emotional distress resulting from the defendant’s conduct.”

The explosion caused a softball-sized depression in the Capitumminos’ front door, which they first noticed the next morning, according to trial testimony. A screw from the door handle was later found across the street.

The Capitumminos are represented by attorney John B. Casey. He did not return a call for comment for this story.

 
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