Oh me, oh my. After all this time we learn that the judge who denied us access to an official report and a trove of emails having to do with the notorious Steve Raucci actually presided at Raucci’s wedding four and a half years earlier, that judge being Barry Kramer.
We — meaning The Daily Gazette and the Times Union — tried to obtain those documents from the Schenectady City School District through the Freedom of Information Law. The school first turned us down, then released the report almost entirely blacked out, and still kept the emails under wraps.
We went to court, and Judge Kramer, who in January last year had just moved up from Surrogate Court to the trial-level Supreme Court, had an easy time of it. Without troubling to review the documents in question to see if they met the standards for being public, he dismissed our lawsuit on the grounds, which he invented, that release of the report “would cause serious pain and embarrassment” to school employees who were quoted in it.
Now we find that he himself appears in one of the documents to which he denied us access, and he appears as the intended recipient of an effusive thank-you note from Raucci for having presided at Raucci’s wedding.
Isn’t that sweet?
He never said a word about it. He never said in court that he had a little situation that might possibly be construed as a conflict of interest, even though he was confident he could still rule fairly, and if anyone wanted to object, now was the time to do it.
That would have allowed the attorneys to ask him to recuse himself, as it’s called, or to waive any objections and let the matter proceed without a cloud over it.
Now, in fairness to Kramer, I don’t believe he could have known or even guessed that his name would appear anywhere in the thousands of emails to which we have finally gained access through a settlement with the school district. His little wedding favor was hardly a matter of school business, and these were school mails we’re talking about, not personal emails off anyone’s home computer.
Nevertheless there it is, dated July 5, 2005, from Raucci to his wife, though the recipient’s name is blacked out (God, how they still love to black things out). The subject line says, “Thank you for Barry Kramer 2005,” and the introductory line of the message says, “Try this honey … Make any changes, or modify it any way you want too.” (I keep the original spelling intact.)
So evidently Raucci was drafting a note to Judge Kramer, to be approved by his new wife, Shelley.
The draft reads in its entirety:
Steve and I want to thank you so much for performing our ‘little private wedding’ at Lynne and Doug’s home. The words you chose to addess such a beautiful time touched us both very deeply. You also made us feel very comfortable and relaxed, considering how nervous we were.
On our way home we talked about the ceremony and how much we enjoyed you being the person we chose to marrying us. We also concluded that only someone pleasant, warm, and sensitive, could have chosen such a beautifully written wedding vow to read at our wedding.
Once again, Barry, thank you ever so much. You were absolutely wonderful.
Shelley & Steve Raucci
A thoughtful, friendly note from Steve and Shelley to Barry — which raises another question: Just what kind of relationship did these folks have anyway? It
sounds like something more than an ordinary civilian going to a judge to get married.
People don’t usually go to a judge of Surrogate Court for a wedding anyway, that being one of the more obscure courts of the land. It sounds like they knew each other. It sounds like they were chums, almost. Raucci doesn’t address Kramer as Your Honor, or as Judge, but as Barry.
Barry and Steve.
Barry Kramer is a former partner in the important Schenectady law firm of Higgins, Roberts, Beyerl & Coan, from which he moved to the bench.
Steve Raucci is a former grounds worker at Schenectady schools who moved up to become tyrant-in-chief of buildings and grounds, with authority that he enforced by vandalizing the cars and homes of employees who defied him. A creep and a thug, if you listened to the surreptitious tape-recordings of him that were played at his trial.
When Judge Kramer denied us access to the emails and the school district’s own report on Raucci’s activities, Raucci was in jail without bail, awaiting trial on charges of arson, terrorism and many lesser offenses. He was ultimately convicted of most of the charges and is now serving a sentence of 23 years to life in the maximum security prison at Dannemora.
Kramer was not oblivious to the possible legal ramifications of his having performed Raucci’s wedding ceremony. Not at all.
In July 2009, Raucci’s attorney, Ronald DeAngelus, filed a writ of habeas corpus to try to get Raucci sprung while he waited for trial, and that request went to Kramer, who was acting as a Supreme Court judge, which he often did, though he was officially still just a Surrogate judge.
Kramer signed the necessary order to “show cause,” but referred the matter to another judge for an actual decision.
The reason he gave was his having performed the wedding ceremony. “That’s what he said,” DeAngelus told me. “That’s why he recused himself.”
Now, again, bending over backwards to be fair, which is a trademark of mine, I will note that the habeas corpus matter obviously bore directly on Raucci — it was an attempt to get him out of jail — whereas the release or non-release of the emails did not. It bore directly on the Gazette and the Times Union, but Raucci himself was not a party to it, and you could argue it did not affect him. He was in jail on his own charges, and the district attorney already had access to any emails he needed to prosecute the case.
But even so. Here was a judge who had a first-name relationship with an accused arsonist sitting in jail without bail, deciding whether or not emails that would potentially be embarrassing to that accused arsonist should be released to the public.
And deciding they should not, without even looking at them! And then having his own name turn up in them as the subject of a genial thank-you note!
How does that look, ladies and gentlemen? Doesn’t it look lovely?
Of course, I tried to reach Judge Kramer to ask him about the relationship, but of course he did not get back to me, so I don’t know.
I do note that he and Raucci are both Schenectady boys, that Kramer is about six years older (68 to Raucci’s 62), and that Kramer was a high school basketball star when Raucci would have been an impressionable grade-schooler, but whether that comes into play, I can’t say.
I would love to know how a lawyer and a judge with a respectable resume comes to be on familiar terms with a creep like Steve Raucci.
And of course I’d also love to know how a judge comes to rule so egregiously on a matter involving that creep without divulging his connection to him. That’s what I would really like to ask.