The trial for convicted arsonist Steven Raucci lasted a month.
The wait for arguments in his appeal in the complicated criminal case has lasted nearly three years.
The time allotted this afternoon for each side’s oral arguments in that appeal: 10 minutes.
The long-awaited arguments in Raucci’s criminal appeal will come before the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court in Albany.
Raucci’s attorney is arguing the convictions on arson and other charges should be overturned. Prosecutors are arguing Raucci received a fair trial.
Backing up today’s arguments are lengthy briefs filed last year by both sides.
The attorney for Raucci, the former Schenectady City School District facilities director convicted in 2010 of arson and other counts, filed his 81-page brief last May, after seeking and being granted multiple extensions. In his brief, attorney Alan Pierce argued that Raucci’s convictions should be overturned on a number of issues. Among them, he argues that 14 of the counts Raucci was convicted of should not have been tried in Schenectady County because the crimes happened outside Schenectady County.
Also, the appeal claims testimony of Raucci’s “managerial abuse” shouldn’t have been allowed and a prior, uncharged allegation of explosive use by Raucci shouldn’t have been allowed, either.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney’s response, filed in October at an original length of more than 100 pages, argues that the convictions should be upheld and that the trial was fundamentally fair. In his brief, Carney even quoted the judge who presided over the case, Polly Hoye. At sentencing, Hoye called the proof in the case “voluminous and convincing and at times even overwhelming.”
Raucci, now 64, is appealing his convictions on each of the 18 counts, including first-degree arson for detonating an explosive device on an occupied home. As a result, he is now serving 23 years to life in prison.
Raucci served as facilities manager and also led the union unit that represented 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.
This afternoon’s arguments are to be held before four justices: John C. Egan Jr., John A. Lahtinen, William E. McCarthy and Presiding Justice Karen K. Peters. With four justices seated for arguments, three would be needed to overturn a conviction. The rules for a tie were unclear Tuesday.
Raucci’s appeal is the fourth case scheduled for the afternoon, out of eight total. None of the attorneys are allotted more than 10 minutes to argue before the court. In each case, though, the attorneys have submitted briefs outlining their arguments.
And the justices come in prepared, Albany Law School professor Laurie Shanks said Tuesday. Shanks, who is not involved in the Raucci case, said the justices also have expectations of their own.
“They expect you to be prepared,” Shanks said. “Very often you get out ‘Good morning, your honor,’ and they start asking you questions.”
The justices’ questions then focus on the issues that they saw when reading through the submissions. The direction of those questions can often go in a different direction, Shanks said.
“Often what you believe is the most important argument, they may or may not agree,” Shanks said.
Arguing for Raucci will be Pierce. Arguing for the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office will be Gerald Dwyer, who handles criminal appeals. Carney, who prosecuted the case, said Tuesday he expects to be on hand for the arguments. He declined to comment Tuesday on the appeal itself.
The criminal appeal is separate from another Raucci-related appeal now before the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. In that case, the state Office of Victim Services is seeking to seize Raucci’s $79,000 annual pension under the state’s Son of Sam Law. The money would be held for payment to Raucci’s victims, should they win lawsuits against him.
Pierce, who also argued that case on Raucci’s behalf, contends protections on pensions shield the money from such actions.
Arguments in that case were held in early January. A decision is expected sometime this month.