The Schenectady City School District wasn’t responsible legally for Steven Raucci’s acts of vandalism, even though it employed the “notorious” arsonist, the school district’s attorney argued to an appeals court Monday.
Meanwhile, an attorney for the plaintiffs — Harold and Deborah Gray, victims of Raucci’s vandalism and intimidation — argued that Raucci’s acts off school grounds were all part of his “reign of terror,” and the district was notified but did nothing.
Patrick Fitzgerald, attorney for the district, argued to the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court that a lawsuit filed by the Grays should be tossed because Raucci’s actions were done during off-hours and not the district’s responsibility.
“Not everything that a bad person does, who is in your employ, is something that you become liable for under a theory of vicarious liability,” Fitzgerald told the Appellate Division, “even if you know that that employee might not be a good person and might be doing bad things at times.”
The district took the case to the appeals court after a lower court in September denied their petition to have the case dismissed.
Monday’s arguments were focused on that issue, meaning the court must consider everything the plaintiffs allege in its most favorable light. A ruling is expected in the coming weeks.
Raucci, 62, was convicted in spring 2010 of first-degree arson and 17 other counts. He is currently serving 23 years to life in state prison.
Raucci served as the city school district’s facilities manager and also led the union unit representing the workers he supervised. It was a dual position that prosecutors said made him valuable to the school administration for his ability to keep labor peace.
The prosecution charged that Raucci was responsible for 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.
Among his victims were the Grays. The Grays suffered through multiple acts of vandalism, with Raucci spreading paint over their cars and home.
Raucci blamed the Grays for a whistle-blowing letter and targeted them in several acts of vandalism and attempted intimidation, according to trial testimony.
The Grays were among several people to file suit in the wake of the Raucci scandal.
The lower court has previously allowed the Grays to sue, but only in connection with a Feb. 16, 2009, vandalism incident at the Grays’ home, days before Raucci’s arrest.
No claims were allowed related to previous incidents dating back to 2005 because proper and timely notice wasn’t given.
Representing the Grays, who were both present for Monday’s arguments, was attorney Elena DeFio Kean.
Kean told the court that Raucci’s actions against the Grays directly affected the district through Raucci’s union ties. Raucci used his control of the union to control the workplace, which benefited the district, Kean told the court.
Justice Karen Peters asked Kean why the Grays didn’t therefore sue the union, instead of the school district.
“Because,” she replied, “it was the school district that allowed him to continue, and the better he got at controlling everything, the more his salary went up.”
Raucci used the Grays as the prime example of what happened when anyone crossed him, Kean continued. “So it’s the district’s responsibility. They were put on notice and they did nothing.”
Several members of the five-justice panel appeared familiar with the Raucci saga. Fitzgerald early on referred to Raucci as a “notorious” former employee.
Peters interjected, referring to Raucci as “quite notorious.” She also later repeated the minimum Raucci is spending in prison, 23 years.
Closing out the arguments, Fitzgerald argued that, even if the district had fired Raucci the day before the Feb. 16, 2009, vandalism incident, the vandalism still could have happened, a causation issue that Fitzgerald argued was the crux of part of the Grays’ case.
But instead of simply throwing paint on their door, it could have been worse, Fitzgerald argued.
“In fact, their whole house might have been painted yellow because he would have been really mad that he would have gotten fired,” Fitzgerald told the court.