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To many in Connecticut’s matrimonial bar, what was surprising about the June 15 shooting of an estranged wife and her lawyer in the parking garage next to Middlesex Superior Court was that similar tragedies don’t happen more often. With his divorce and child custody case dragging into its second year and culminating in a trial about to enter its 12th day, former state trooper Michael Bochicchio Jr. ended it all in a spray of gunfire, killing his wife, Donna Bochicchio, and severally injuring her attorney, Julie M. Porzio of Waterbury, police say. Michael Bochicchio then fatally turned his gun on himself, according to police. As of press time, Porzio was hospitalized and listed in serious but stable condition. A Holy Cross High School graduate, she is married to former Waterbury Mayor Joe Santopietro. They live with their two young children in the city, where Porzio has a law practice, specializing in family matters. With some of the legal system’s most difficult clients embroiled in intensely emotional disputes, Porzio’s family law colleagues report that the sobering end to the Bochicchios’ marital problems is only an extreme example of the threats and attacks they fear and experience routinely due to the field of law in which they’ve chosen to practice. Attorney Alfred R. Belinkie, whose Bridgeport, Conn., firm practices exclusively family law, has been attacked twice in the course of his 50-year career, he recalled last week. Both assaults, which occurred within a courtroom, were at the hands of his clients’ irate family members. New Haven, Conn., solo Dennis W. Driscoll said the husband of a woman he represented threatened to shoot him in 1997 in the midst of a volatile child custody case. Litchfield, Conn., solo Cecilia Buck-Taylor also has faced down the wrath of opposing clients who tell her they wish she was dead or who vow “to get even,” she said. Violence by an opposing client is something that Westport family lawyer Nancy Aldrich said she worries about all the time. Aldrich, whose former client, Laurie DiNicola, was killed by her husband soon after a Superior Court judge denied her request for a restraining order against him in 1999, admitted that last week’s shooting made her “nervous.” Custody cases that are transferred to Middlesex Regional Trial Docket, as the Bochicchios’ dispute was, often involve litigants who are anxious, angry and sometimes involved in domestic violence, according to Aldrich. The opposing party often blames the spouse’s attorney for all of his or her problems. “We are hated,” Aldrich said. Like many matrimonial attorneys contacted by The Law Tribune, Aldrich wasn’t surprised that Michael Bochicchio had dismissed his lawyers and was representing himself in the Middletown trial. “In pro se cases, there’s more potential for things to go wrong,” Aldrich maintained. “Lawyers tend to try to help calm the client down to avoid fueling a volatile situation.” Pro se parties, Buck-Taylor added, don’t understand the process and don’t have anybody on their side. MEDIATION THE SOLUTION? While most attorneys agree that little can be done to prevent an attack by a vengeful spouse, some have suggested that the Judicial Department take some steps to alleviate tensions between warring parties before they reach the breaking point. Attorney Driscoll recommended more efficient scheduling with family relations personnel. The waiting period becomes expensive for clients, he explained, and gives their emotions time to ferment. “It frustrates my client and increases the time you are interacting with the opposing side on issues that can become hostile,” he observed. Eric Broder, co-chairman of the Fairfield County Bar’s family law committee and a partner at Broder & Orland in Westport, suggested stationing marshals outside the court when it first opens in the morning. “That’s where people are going to confront each other,” he said. Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, a spokeswoman for the Judicial Branch, said her department is constantly reviewing and evaluating security procedures. The Middletown murder-suicide will be factored into that ongoing review and evaluation, she said. The Judicial Branch doesn’t patrol the city-owned parking facility where the shooting occurred. Cases that can’t be resolved in local courts are sent to the Middlesex Regional Trial Docket. “The craziest cases end up [at Middletown]. Things happen there that don’t happen elsewhere,” remarked Belinkie, who has held leadership positions in many local and national matrimonial bar associations, including the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the American College of Family Trial Lawyers. Several attorneys said the fact that Michael Bocchichio was representing himself and that the case was sent to Middletown were indicators that it was a case that couldn’t be resolved short of trial, despite the best efforts of counsel and the court. However, Paul T. Tusch, outgoing chairman of the Connecticut Bar Association’s Family Law Section and a partner at Stamford’s Cacace Tusch & Santagata, said that last week’s violence emphasized the need to make alternative dispute resolution techniques a larger component of family law practice. Mediation, collaboration and arbitration are designed to diminish conflict, he explained, when reached by The Law Tribune at a Collaborative Law Seminar on the subject that was, coincidentally, scheduled for the day after the Middletown shooting. Echoed Hartford attorney Wm. Bruce Louden, “Divorce court is not equipped to handle the deep emotions that are present in these situations. Trials bring out the rawest of emotions, and there’s a need for all of us who do matrimonial law to be as aware as we can be of the deep emotions that are present in these cases,” he said. Still, a lawyer can only control things to a certain degree, Louden noted. The co-chair of the Governor’s Commission on Custody, Divorce and Children, Thomas Foley, whose own 12-year acrimonious divorce just ended last month, recently described “the biggest challenges” in the court system faced by parents fighting over custody. Some of the problems include the adversarial system in which the “winning” parent is “awarded” the child; “a ponderously slow, expensive and imprecise system;” and “inconsistent and highly variable decisions by judges that add a ‘casino effect’ to the process,” Foley wrote in an editorial published June 8 in the New Haven Register. Describing the dissolution process as “Kafkaesque,” Foley was perhaps prescient when he wrote just one week before the Middletown shooting, “(T)he pain and frustration experienced by parents in custody disputes can easily lead to desperate acts that can’t be understood by people who haven’t been through the process. … Next time you hear about a kidnapping or other crazy behavior surrounding a custody case, don’t dismiss it as crazy behavior by crazy people. It is crazy behavior by people who were probably normal until they were driven crazy by their unfortunate personal circumstances and a divorce and custody system that isn’t responding well enough to their needs,” he wrote.

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