The recent conviction of Dominic Joseph Badaracco for attempted bribery reads like a grade B movie involving a motley cast of characters, including a sitting judge of the Superior Court; a ham-handed attempt by Badaracco to bribe the judge; and the transcript of a secretly recorded conversation between the judge's and Badaracco's mutual friend, Ronald "Rocky" Richter, in which the oft repeated "what the f—" triples as a noun, a verb and an adjective.
While reporting and commentary on this case has understandably focused on the attempted bribery of Judge Robert Brunetti, little attention has been paid to Brunetti's questionable involvement in this unfortunate episode and his apparent lapse of judgment that allowed him to become ensnared in a caper that if it weren't true would surely evoke a rhetorical, "You've got to be kidding me."
According to media reports, the story begins with the 1984 disappearance and presumed murder of Badaracco's first wife, Mary. Though he has steadfastly insisted he had nothing to do with her disappearance, court papers indicate that authorities have for two decades considered Dominic Badaracco the principal suspect, fueled in part by the fact that his now-present wife moved into his Sherman residence just two weeks after Mary Badaracco's disappearance.
In August 2010, more than 25 years after her disappearance, a state grand jury was appointed to investigate the circumstances of Mary's death and to determine whether there was probable cause to initiate criminal proceedings arising out of her disappearance and presumed death. Enter Badaracco, Judge Brunetti and their mutual acquaintance Richter, all of whom have known each other for almost 45 years as golfing partners and as Brunetti's law clients prior to his appointment as a judge. Richter is a close friend and business associate of Badaracco.
In September 2010, Richter initiated a series of phone conversations with Brunetti concerning the existence of a possible grand jury investigation into Badaracco's involvement in his wife's disappearance. State laws governing the conduct of a grand jury investigation require that it be conducted in "private" and that the record of its proceedings be sealed until such time as a finding of probable cause is made. Judge Brunetti told Richter in those September conversations that he knew nothing of the probe. However, only one month later, in October 2010, Judge Brunetti and Richter spoke six times. During one of those conversations Brunetti told Richter that a New Britain grand jury was indeed investigating Mary Badaracco's disappearance.
Then, in November 2010, Judge Brunetti received a call on Richter's cell phone from Badaracco, who reportedly told Brunetti: "I'm only going to say this one time. It's worth a hundred G's." Brunetti immediately ended the conversation and reported it to the Office of the Chief State's Attorney.
A sting was then set up in which Judge Brunetti, whose conversations with Badaracco and Richter were being recorded by authorities, told Badaracco: "There might be something I can do for you." A transcript of these recordings — littered with expletives worthy of an HBO crime production — shows a judge earnestly playing the role assigned to him by the state's attorney and the two potential targets seemingly aware that he was attempting to elicit incriminating statements from them.
Badaracco, who was recently convicted by a Bridgeport Superior Court jury of attempted bribery of Judge Brunetti, will soon be sentenced by Judge Robert Devlin. But what about Judge Brunetti's questionable conduct in this unseemly episode? It was Judge Brunetti who had at least six phone conversations with Richter about the possible existence of the grand jury probe. It was Judge Brunetti who failed to promptly report what were obviously inappropriate inquiries by Richter. And, finally, it was Judge Brunetti who ultimately disclosed to Richter the existence of such a probe despite the clear statutory mandate that such proceedings are required to be confidential.
Unfortunately, it appears that his participation in these questionable conversations only served to encourage — perhaps unwittingly — whatever incipient scheme Badaracco and Richter concocted to foil the grand jury probe. Judge Brunetti, who has a solid reputation as a fair and conscientious jurist, appears to have allowed his friendship and prior representation of Badaracco and Richter, to compromise his obligations as a judge — a lesson that should not be lost on him or his colleagues. •