The state’s highest court is to hear arguments today in two high-profile cases with local interest: the pension status of convicted arsonist Steven Raucci and the firing of a Shenendehowa Central School District bus driver.
First up before the Court of Appeals this afternoon is the pension case of Raucci. The court is to decide whether the state can hold Raucci’s pension for possible payment to his victims under the Son of Sam Law.
The arguments come after a June ruling by the mid-level Appellate Division of state Supreme Court that found in favor of the Office of Victim Services for ordering the seizure of Raucci’s $79,000 annual pension under provisions of the state’s Son of Sam Law. The money has been seized since then.
If the ruling stands, the money would be made available to Raucci’s victims, should they win lawsuits against him. It would also mean perpetrators of similar crimes with state pensions could see that money frozen for potential payment to victims.
In the June ruling, that court essentially found that the Son of Sam Law, revised in 2001, took precedence over an older pension law aimed at protecting pension funds from recovery. Raucci’s pension, and the state pension of anyone convicted of a crime, had been protected under state law, the state Comptroller’s Office has said.
The Office of Victim Services accepted that argument but instead asked for a ruling allowing it to seize a large portion of the pension after it was paid, essentially skirting the pension protections by using the Son of Sam Law.
That law aims to help victims get access to the “funds of a convicted person.” The state agency then notifies victims of the funds and moves to seize them through an injunction request if victims respond that they have already filed lawsuits or intend to.
In Raucci’s case, two of his victims asked that the funds be seized. One, the victim of the most serious charge Raucci was convicted of, filed his suit in early 2011.
Raucci was convicted in March 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.
Raucci is appealing his criminal conviction. The Appellate Division of state Supreme Court is to take up arguments in that appeal in February.
Raucci served as the Schenectady City School District’s facilities manager and also led the CSEA union unit representing the workers he supervised.
In the Shenendehowa case, to be heard later this afternoon, the Court of Appeals is to hear arguments in the case of a bus driver who lost her job with the district in 2009 after a drug test found marijuana in her system.
In October 2009, Cynthia DiDomenicantonio’s urine tested positive for marijuana during a random drug test. The district placed her on unpaid suspension and then fired her the following month. She had worked nearly 10 years for the district.
An arbitrator then said DiDomenicantonio should be reinstated to her position without back pay. Shenendehowa officials responded by filing a lawsuit and a state Supreme Court judge in Saratoga County sided with the district’s right to terminate anyone who puts students at risk.
The Civil Service Employees Association appealed the case to the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, which in December 2011 sided with the union and ruled the contract did not include a “no tolerance” policy for drug use, but listed other disciplinary actions, including fines, suspension and termination.
The district then appealed to the state’s highest court.
Rulings in each of the cases are not expected for several weeks.