Skakel Schoolmaster Cites Privacy

Greenwich Time Sept. 25, 1998
By J.A. Johnson Jr., Staff Writer

BRIDGEPORT - The owner of a Maine school for troubled adolescents yesterday
refused to discuss before a grand jury allegations that he overheard murder
suspect Michael Skakel admit to killing Greenwich teenager Martha Moxley 23
years ago.
As a result of that refusal, a hearing was ordered for Oct. 8, in which a
Superior Court judge will rule on claims by Elan School owner Joseph Ricci that
the sought information is privileged.
"I have been advised by my attorneys that conversation with students at the
school concerning their special needs should be treated as confidential," Ricci
said of his refusal to answer the grand jury's questions. 
Skakel attended Elan School in Poland Springs, Maine, from 1978 to 1980,
according to court papers filed earlier this month in Maine by State's Attorney
Jonathan Benedict, who is assisting Superior Court Judge George Thim with the
Moxley grand jury. Benedict said in the court documents that he "has been
informed by several former residents of Elan that Joseph Ricci was present and
overheard Michael Skakel make admissions to the murder of Martha Moxley."
During a court break, however, Ricci said, "I am not aware of any statement made
by any student at the Elan School admitting complicity in any murder. I have
searched my memory in that regard, and I do not believe that I have, or ever
had, any such evidence."
Ricci added that even if he had such information, he would not disclose it to
the grand jury because it is privileged information.
Police have named both Michael Skakel and his brother Thomas as suspects in the
Oct. 30, 1975, death of Moxley, who died from blows investigators said came from
a golf club owned by the Skakel family, who lived across the street from the
Moxleys.  
Elan School, which Ricci founded with the late Dr. Gerald E. Davidson, a
psychiatrist, is certified by the Department of Education as a secondary school
and school for special education. It is licensed by the state's Department of
Mental Health and Corrections as a mental health facility, and is also licensed
by the Maine Department of Health as a residential drug treatment center.
Ricci, 51, who was born and raised in Port Chester, N.Y., said he began using
heroin at age 16, but kicked an addiction after entering drug treatment programs
at age 18. Ricci said Elan School's therapy programs have proven to be
successful, a cornerstone of which is the knowledge by residents that what they
say and do at the facility will remain there.
"The record of accomplishment is facilitated by the confidentiality we accord to
the statements and records of our students," Ricci said. "I fully understand
that this investigation by the state of Connecticut is an important one. The
work of the Elan School, however, is likewise important. I hope that this court
will honor that confidentiality."
A large, flamboyant man dressed in a black shirt and tie featuring a panther,
Ricci held court of his own in the hallway outside the grand jury room,
surrounded by reporters eager to hear what the racetrack owner and two-time
Maine gubernatorial candidate had to say. He promised the reporters that when he
returns next month to the Bridgeport court, he will bring a lobster for each.
As Benedict walked past the gathering, he remarked, "I'm going to have to buy
tomorrow's newspaper" to read what Ricci was saying.
Ricci also told reporters he drove 5 1/2 hours from his home in Falmouth to
Bridgeport in a limousine rented with the $600 the state of Connecticut provided
him for transportation.
"The limo cost the same as a plane from Portland to Hartford would've," he said.
Although Ricci said he was warned not to discuss what he said in the grand jury
room, Ricci said he invoked privilege when refusing to answer each of "a list of
40 questions" asked of him. 
After spending nearly two hours in Thim's sealed courtroom with Ricci and the
man's two attorneys, Benedict filed a "motion to direct testimony" from the
grand jury witness. The motion was referred to Superior Court Judge G. Sarsfield
Ford, who would not let Ricci's attorneys address the matter because they are
not licensed with the Connecticut Bar Association.
Speaking to Benedict, Ford said, "You are the only one here representing anyone
in this matter."
Ricci's attorneys, Edward MacColl and John Campbell, both of Portland, afterward
said they will seek "pro hac vice" status for the planned hearing, which gives
out-of-state counsel temporary standing. Such status requires sponsorship of a
local attorney, and MacColl said he had "friends in Bridgeport" who would
sponsor him and Campbell.
The lawyer representing Skakel, Stamford attorney Michael Sherman, yesterday
morning filed a motion seeking an injunction against Ricci's grand jury
testimony and the use of Elan School records.
The motion said any statements Skakel made during counseling sessions, as well
as records concerning his stay at Elan School, "are confidential communications
and, as a matter of law, cannot be disclosed to this grand jury, absent a waiver
of Michael Skakel's claim of privilege."
Attached to the motion was an affidavit, signed by Skakel on Wednesday in Martin
County Court in Florida, attesting to the fact he had not authorized the
disclosure of statements or release of records.
Since Skakel's motion and Ricci's objections concern the same issue of
privilege, both matters will be decided at the Oct. 8 hearing before Superior
Court Judge John Ronan.Emanuel Margolis, a Stamford attorney representing Thomas
Skakel, was at the courthouse yesterday and said he was monitoring the
proceedings.