ALBANY Convicted arsonist Steven Raucci’s state pension is his again after New York’s highest court reversed a lower court’s ruling that had seized the money for possible payment to Raucci’s victims.
The state Court of Appeals, however, did not decide the actual issue of whether such pensions are reachable under the Son of Sam Law, as had been expected.
The court found a key argument wasn’t put forth by the state Office of Victim Services during initial arguments at the outset of the case and that the office even contradicted the key argument in making its case. Without that argument being made, the underlying issue of state pension protections and the Son of Sam Law could not be decided, the court wrote.
“Our resolution of the question decided by the Appellate Division must await a case in which the issue is preserved,” the court wrote. “Meanwhile, of course, nothing prevents the Legislature from amending one or both of the statutes to make its intention clear.”
In Raucci’s case, the Court of Appeals sent the matter back to the Appellate Division “for consideration of the facts and issues raised but not determined on the appeal to that court.”
The ruling essentially frees up for his use Raucci’s $79,000 pension, which the state began seizing after an Appellate Division ruling last summer.
What wasn’t clear Tuesday was whether Raucci’s pension could be seized in the future, if the Court of Appeals received the appropriate case, or if the Legislature clarified the law in favor of the state Office of Victim Services, which argued for seizure.
For now, though, Raucci’s attorney, Alan Pierce, said in an email Tuesday that, following the ruling, he asked the state to issue a check returning the seized funds.
“We are pleased and happy to have the Court of Appeals reverse the grant of an injunction seizing Steve Raucci’s pension and look forward to a final resolution of the case shortly in the Appellate Division,” Pierce said in the email.
Pierce said he was in the process of sorting out what issues remain to be to argued at the Appellate Division.
Officials with both the state Attorney General’s Office and the Office of Victim Services declined to comment on the ruling Tuesday, including what happens next.
The high court decided the case after hearing arguments last month. At those arguments, Pierce claimed that changes to the Son of Sam Law in 2001 did not supersede long-standing protections for state pensions. The Legislature could not have intended to put spouses’ and children’s interests in the pensions at risk, he argued.
Meanwhile, the attorney for the state, Assistant Solicitor General Owen Demuth, argued that the 2001 expansion of the law still allows for the money to be seized, even though pensions aren’t specifically addressed.
The high court focused on arguments made in state Supreme Court. That court ruled in Raucci’s favor, finding that the Office of Victim Services didn’t argue that the Son of Sam Law trumped or superseded the specific section of law that protected pensions.
Then, the Office of Victims Services made it clear that it was not seeking action directly against the state retirement system, something it said was not allowed under state law. But the office was going after the money after it was paid to Raucci.
In its ruling, the Appellate Division took a different tack, finding that the Son of Sam Law, as revised in 2001, took full precedence over the older pension law. Pensions weren’t expressly protected, as other categories were. In reaching that finding, the Appellate Division found the argument was preserved by being raised in submissions before the Supreme Court.
At issue was Raucci’s $79,000 annual pension from his work at the Schenectady City School District and whether it can essentially be held for possible payment to his victims, should they win lawsuits against him.
The cases from one of the victims, the Capitummino family of Rotterdam, went forward with a judge’s ruling earlier this month, adopting the findings of Raucci’s criminal conviction in the civil case. The attorney for the Capitumminos did not return a call for comment on Tuesday’s ruling.
Tuesday’s ruling would appear to make it harder for them to collect, should they get a judgment against Raucci. It would be a judgment they would have to work to collect on their own, without a pot of money held for payment to them.
Raucci was convicted in 2010 on 18 of 22 counts against him, 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.
He is currently housed in the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, serving 23 years to life.