Judge Richard Damiani was known as a tough judge with a vibrant personality.
Some referred to him as “Hurricane Richard,” for the way he shook things up. He was also known to others as “King Richard” for the way he took command.
His death at age 66 last week stunned the legions of lawyers and court staffers throughout the state who appeared in his courtrooms or who worked with him over the past 26 years.
Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Robert Devlin, who knew Damiani well, said he was “shocked and saddened” to hear of his colleague’s death.
Devlin attended Damiani’s funeral on Thursday, July 12, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Hamden and said the church was packed with hundreds of mourners — family, friends and court personnel and lawyers. “He was larger than life,” said Devlin.
Lenny Crone, a Waterbury defense lawyer who often appeared before Damiani and who also attende the funeral, called the judge “tough, but fair.”
“Judge D was a giant in the field,” Crone said, listing consistency as one of his top attributes. “If he told you something, he stuck to it. His input helped a generation improve as trial lawyers. He will be missed.”
Damiani, of North Haven, died on Monday, July 9, after collapsing at his home over the weekend, according to news reports.
The presiding criminal judge in Waterbury Superior Court at the time of his death, he was born in New Haven, attended Providence College and graduated with honors from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1967. During the early part of his career, he worked as a sole practitioner in New Haven, a part-time court clerk, a prosecutor and a partner in a firm that became known as Greenberg, Costa & Damiani, before being sworn in as a Superior Court jude in 1985. In addition to his time in Waterbury, he also presided over courts in Ansonia, Bridgeport, Meriden, New Haven, and Hartford.
“He was an extremely hard-working, knowledgeable, fair and compassionate judge. This is a great loss to the Judicial Branch, and he will be sorely missed,” said Judge Barbara Quinn, the state’s chief court administrator.
Death Penalty Cases
During his time on the bench, Damiani was involved in a number of high-profile cases.
He was a member of the panel that sentenced Robert J. Breton Sr. to death in 1997 for the murder of his 38-year-old former wife and their 16-year-old son in Waterbury. Later, he issued a key ruling in the death-penalty case of Robert Courchesne, convicted of capital felony in the 1998 stabbing deaths of Demetris Rodgers and the child she had carried 8½ months. Damiani ruled in 1999 that though Antonia Rodgers was fatally injured before birth, Courchesne could be charged with murdering her because she lived for 42 days.
He was also involved in implementing the gag order that prevented lawyers and others from talking about the 2007 Cheshire home invasion cases.
”Judge Damiani epitomized everything a judge should be and was a wonderful person on every level,” Robert Serafinowicz, a criminal defense lawyer, told the Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury. “I consider myself lucky to have known him and value everything he taught me.”
Devlin said that it’s now well understood that a small amount of people commit a large proportion of all crimes. Damiani realized that years ago, Devlin said. And so he was often sympathetic to defendants accused of lesser crimes, persuading prosecutors to reduce charges when it was warranted, Devlin said.
“His internal compass was pointed in the right direction,” Devlin said. “He had no problem giving defendants the breaks. [But] if someone had a long serious record, and had done a violent crime, that person would be looking at a long prison record.”
And he could “turn a phrase” when handing down a sentence, Devlin said.
Everyone who knew Damiani described him as a hard worker who put in a lot of hours, moved efficiently through his court calendar and demanded that lawyers be on time for hearings. “Whoever said the wheels of justice turn slowly never met Richard Damiani,” Bridgeport State’s Attorney John Smriga told the Connecticut Post.
As late as last Friday, Crone, the defense attorney, said the Waterbury legal community was still in shock over Damiani’s passing. “We didn’t always agree with everything all the time,” Crone said. But “there were no surprises with him.”•