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Once Upon A Time In Connecticut

This is a war story. It’s the kind of story we used to have time to tell when our bar was smaller, the pace of our work slower, and we knew each other better.

What prompts it in my memory is the rough coincidence in timing of the assumption of senior status by Chief Judges Newman and Dorsey. Both were key players in a three month trial, US v Moeller et al, which was tried in New Haven beginning in the fall of l975 and stretching into February of l976. It brought together in one courtroom the smartest person I’ve ever seen in a robe, some of the best lawyers in the District and a colorful ensemble cast of other players the producers of Cheers would envy. The trial took on an atmosphere consisting of equal parts Hellzapoppin and the Lollapalooza Tour, requiring the former Chief Judge of this Circuit to use everything but a whip and chair to keep things under control. It has provided more than ample grist for the anecdote mill for years and, though now almost forgotten by all but the participants, deserves to be remembered as part of the lore of our Court.

On March 1, l995 the town of Shelton was rocked by a midnight explosion at the Sponge Rubber Products plant, the town’s main employer. The factory was quickly consumed by fire. The FBI was on the case in a heartbeat, bringing in experts from Washington and spreading an investigative net throughout Connecticut which stretched to the New York airports and points west to Butler, Pennsylvania and Lima, Ohio.

Fifty gallon drums of gasoline had been transported in a U-Haul truck from Pennsylvania, deposited throughout the factory in the afternoon, linked together with primacord and detonated around midnight. This had been preceded by the altruistic kidnapping of the company’s armed guards who were deposited deep in the woods in a nearby town before the explosion.

A series of interconnected telephone, motel and airline records led to the indictment of eight Pennsylvanians, the owner of the factory and his erstwhile psychic confidant, the Reverend David Bubar. It was the Government’s theory that the arson was set for insurance purposes to rid Moeller of a financial albatross.

Chief Judge Dorsey was the US Attorney. I was his bewildered second chair, assigned principally to handle the pretrial motions. Moeller was represented by the legendary Ted Koskoff assisted by now-Judge Tom Nadeau. Andy Bowman, Alan Neigher, Dan Sagarin, Greg Craig, Tom Clifford, Denny Curtis and David Golub –all appointed– represented the collection of rag-tag Pennsylvanians who, by today’s standards, would be mistaken for a group of backwoods paramilitary militiamen.

A younger Kevin Rowe and Frances Consiglio, the personification of niceness, were the courtroom clerks.

The magic ingredient to this mix, however, was the psychic Reverend and his out of state counsel, the incomparable Rudolph Lion Zolowitz. He brought an entirely new perspective to lawyers who identify with their client’s causes. Rudolph was bizarre by anyone’s definition, a cross between Professor Irwin Corey and Bert Lahr.

His plaid sportcoats, striped shirts and dotted bowties projected a visual discordance exaggerated by the squeak of his Sperry Topsiders whenever he crossed the cork-floored courtroom to rage on his client’s behalf. He proudly distributed a folding business card, flocked, like wallpaper, in blue with silver printing which, in addition to listing the courts to which he was admitted, identified its bearer as

Rudolph Lion Zolowitz

Lion of Judah

Attorney and Psychic

It was not so much that Rudolph marched to the beat of a different drummer; rather, he seemed attuned to the unheard sound of one hand clapping. It was Rudolph who, late one dreary afternoon in the middle of endless boring suppression hearings confronted an FBI Agent who had testified that a witness at the factory described Reverend Bubar as “a big enchilada”. This was in the immediate post-Watergate era when anyone in power was graciously dubbed with that encomium.

“A what???” screamed Rudolph.

“An enchilada, sir,” replied the agent.

Rudolph was enraged. “Do you know, sir, what an enchilada [sic] is?”

The agent was ready. He had read Webster’s Collegiate and repeated the dictionary definition, I think, almost verbatim. “Yes, sir. An enchilada is a Mexican food, consisting of corn meal, filling, and . . . .”

Rudolph could take no more. He pounced on the witness. He screamed at the nonplussed agent, “Have you sir, ever in your life heard one man refer to another as an enchilada [sic]?”

The examination, of course went no where, but the effect on courtroom decorum was unforgettable. Two lawyers dived below counsel table, covering their mouths, gasping for air; two more bolted upright, ran from the courtroom and guffawed and yelped in the hallway; and at least one of the others opened up his briefcase on the table and hid behind it. But the memory of memories was the court reporter, the stoic Gerry Gale, fighting to contain himself. Pressing onward to record every misspoken word, Gerry kept his fingers to the keys as he rocked back and forth in his armless reporters chair, stomping his left foot on the floor to keep from laughing out loud, biting his lower lip as tears streamed down his face. Even Judge Newman’s familiar “Well, all right, all right” was just a little shy of outright laughter.

That however, is just one clip from the Rudolph Lion Zolowitz highlight film. There were many, many others. At one point even US Attorney Dorsey, for the first time in my memory, was speechless when Rudolph marked and attempted to place into evidence a Reader’s Digest Magazine which had on its cover a fluorescent label which read “Property of SNET . Do Not Remove From Lobby”.

But Rudolph was only part of the show. His client, Reverend Bubar, the evidence showed had predicted that the factory would go up in flames shortly before the arson. Why he should be an intimate of a savvy, affluent businessman remains a mystery. Reverend Bubar’s brother traveled from Maine to testify on Bubar’s behalf. The Reverend, said his brother, often predicted of events that would occur in the future, in fact, he told his brother that the factory would burn to the ground and Bubar had been told that, said the brother, by an angel. “Objection!” said Dan Sagarin, “Hearsay.” Judge Newman sustained the objection.

There are other memories of that trial which return whenever I am on the second floor of the New Haven Courthouse or in what is now Judge Burns courtroom. Peter Betres, one of the defendants, late in the trial, knew things were going badly, but he coped. One day he paraded through the hallway with an electrician’s ladder telling everyone in sight was taking his case to a higher court. And the late Tom Clifford, doing the impossible, convincing at least some jurors that a latent fingerprint conclusively matched by FBI experts to his client was somehow not a match.

And the Government’s key witness, John Shaw, one of the arsonists, looking like a young Jon Voight, testifying from a memory so precise it would have amazed the Amazing Kreskin. I also remember Ted Koskoff, approaching Zolowitz whose cross-examination was impaling all of the co-defendants while their lawyers fumed. Ted restrained the lawyers from committing mayhem, begged the court’s indulgence, and approached Zolowitz. He placed a fatherly arm around Rudolph’s shoulder and stage whispered, “Brilliant, Rudolph, absolutely brilliant. You should stop right here.” A flattered Rudolph beamed as Ted escorted him back to counsel table.

And of course, Judge Dorsey, the US Attorney, trying a three month trial as lead counsel, orchestrating a major case with countless witnesses, maintaining the amiable good humor that he carried with him to the bench and which he has used to remind us that courtrooms don’t have to be foreboding and intimidating.

Bubar and all but one of the Pennsylvania crew were convicted. Moeller also acquitted. The convictions were upheld on appeal. You can read about that part at 567 2d 192. But if you want to know what really happened you have to hear the war stories.