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Decision possibly imminent in Buddy’s appeal

Speculation about whether former Providence Mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr. will win his racketeering conspiracy appeal is trumped these days only by conjecture about when the First US Circuit Court of Appeals will rule on the case. Rumors have been circulating that a decision by a three-judge panel is imminent. But a clerk in the Boston-based court says there’s no way for the public to know, explaining in Zen-like terms, "They just decide when they decide."

Not that there’s a lot of patience. The clerk fields so many questions about whether a ruling is on its way that she knows the Cianci appeal case number by heart. "People call daily," she says.

Cianci was convicted June 24, 2002, of a single charge of racketeering conspiracy, and acquitted of 11 other counts, the jury ruling that the mayor oversaw a wide-ranging municipal scheme of bribes and extortion. Sentenced to five years and four months, Cianci entered the federal prison at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in December 2002. Ten months later, on October 9, 2003, the First Circuit judges heard 90 minutes of arguments challenging and defending the conviction.

Speculation that the verdict could be overturned is only partially based in law. One legal argument is that since Cianci was found innocent of specific crimes, the concept that he led a conspiracy to commit those crimes is weak. But much of the second-guessing has to do with the Buddy Cianci legend and his history of comebacks. Most notably, after his first tenure as mayor ended in 1984, when he pleaded no contest to an assault charge, he won back the office in 1990.

Thus, the rumor mill has been running three full shifts. I got a call last week from someone who had talked to a former Cianci colleague, and the colleague said he had definite word that Cianci would soon walk out of prison a free man. When I called the Cianci contact, he said he couldn’t compromise his source. He further conceded that he himself "wouldn’t bet $100" on the validity of the information.

Tom Connell, spokesman for the US attorney’s office, says government lawyers have no idea when the decision will come. Connell said it is taking some time — other appeals have been argued and decided since Cianci’s. But he says the legal record itself is voluminous, which makes long deliberation logical.

Andrew Horwitz, a professor at the Roger Williams University law school, said there’s an element of mystery to the processes of appeals courts. Not only do judges have to shift through legal complexities. They also spend time agreeing to the language of decisions and possible dissents, as the judges exchange drafts and even change their votes after studying the reasoning of their colleagues. "The only people truly informed about the workings of a court are the people in the court," Horwitz says.

Richard M. Egbert, Cianci’s lawyer during the seven-week trial, says he is as in the dark as anyone as to when a decision might come down, and even he quizzed me about what I’d heard. "I like your rumor," Egbert says. "I wish it was based on something besides rumor."

Issue Date: April 23 - 29, 2004
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