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.