Richard J. Daronco

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Richard J. Daronco
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
May 7, 1987 – May 21, 1988
Appointed by Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Lee P. Gagliardi
Succeeded by Louis Freeh
Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York
In office
Appointed by Hugh Carey
Personal details
Born Richard Joseph Daronco
(1931-08-01)August 1, 1931
New York, New York
Died May 21, 1988(1988-05-21) (aged 56)
Pelham, New York
Spouse(s) Joan Daronco (m. 1957)
Children 5
Residence Pelham, New York, U.S.
Alma mater Providence College
Albany Law School
Profession Judge, lawyer
Religion Roman Catholic
Military service
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1956-1958
Rank Private (United States)

Richard Joseph Daronco (August 1, 1931 – May 21, 1988) was an American judge and lawyer from New York, a lifelong resident of Pelham. He served as a New York State judge for 17 years and as a federal judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for one year. On May 21, 1988, he was assassinated, becoming one of three federal judges to be intentionally killed in the line of judicial service in the twentieth century.

Early life & education[edit]

Born in New York, New York, Daronco was the son of a tile setter who emigrated from Italy. He attended the New York Military Academy in Cornwall, NY before receiving a Bachelor of Arts from Providence College in 1953. He received an LL.B. from Albany Law School in 1956.

From 1956 to 1958, Daronco served in the United States Army as a private.


Daronco was in private practice as a trial lawyer in New York City from 1958 to 1959. He continued his practice in White Plains, New York from 1959 to 1971.

In 1971, Daronco began his judicial career with an appointment by Governor Nelson Rockefeller as Judge of the New York Family Court for Westchester County, on which he served until 1974. He then became Judge of the Westchester County Court from 1974 to 1979, and served as an administrative judge for one year. Daronco was appointed by Governor Hugh Carey as a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court where he served from 1979 to 1987 and in 1983 became Deputy Chief Administrative Judge of courts outside New York City. In this capacity, he administered the 450 courts of Upstate New York.

He was also an adjunct professor at Pace University School of Law from 1983 to 1988. Additionally, he taught as an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law from 1983 to 1988 and as an adjunct professor at Iona College.

On February 2, 1987, upon the recommendation of Senator Alfonse D'Amato, Daronco was nominated for appointment by President Ronald Reagan to a seat on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York vacated by Lee P. Gagliardi. Daronco was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 7, 1987, and received his commission the same day.

Personal life[edit]

Richard Daronco, a lifelong resident of Pelham, was known and respected as a "family man" and a "churchgoer" who was devout in his Catholic faith. He married Joan O'Rourke in 1957 and had five children. His brother, Paul, served as the Mayor of Pelham.


Richard J. Daronco Westchester County Courthouse

In April 1988, Judge Daronco presided over a bench trial in a sex discrimination and sexual harassment case, in which the plaintiff, Carolee Koster, alleged she was wrongfully passed over for promotion and eventually terminated by her employer. She opted to represent herself pro se after being previously represented by three different attorneys, the last of whom withdrew from the case. She had previously rejected a monetary settlement in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, seeking a much larger sum of $2.5 million.

Daronco was the third judge to preside over this case that had already spanned seven years of litigation and delays. On May 19, 1988, Daronco issued a 39-page written decision at the conclusion of the 10-day trial holding in the defendant employer's favor and dismissed the case. He wrote in his decision that Ms. Koster's claim had not a "scintilla of credible evidence."

One day later, Charles L. Koster, a retired mounted New York City police officer and the father of the unsuccessful plaintiff - who himself had been asked to leave the courtroom several times through the course of the trial for making disruptive noises and expressions - drove to Judge Daronco's neighborhood in the typically tranquil suburb of Pelham around 2 pm from his home in Bath, Pennsylvania. He stayed the night at an unknown location.

The following day, May 21, Koster parked several blocks away from Daronco's home, near Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. He walked to Daronco's house and approached the judge while he was doing yard work in his home garden. Seconds later, Koster fired four shots at Judge Daronco from a .38 caliber revolver. Daronco, though wounded by at least three shots, one of which had caused major bleeding from striking a femoral artery of the thigh, attempted to escape through his kitchen door. His neighbor heard Daronco shout "I need help." As his wife, daughter, and a friend remained in another part of the house, Daronco tried to barricade himself in his study where he collapsed and died. Hearing the distrubance, his wife, Joan, discovered the bloody scene and held closed the kitchen door. Koster, attempting to chase Daronco into the kitchen, pushed through the door held closed by Mrs. Daronco and committed suicide by a fatal shot to the head. Mrs. Daronco ran into the middle of Corona Avenue to call for help, though Richard Daronco had already passed.


The murder of Richard Daronco was a shock to the low-crime and quiet community of Pelham. A funeral for was held at St. Catherine's Roman Catholic Church in Pelham with many in attendance.

Judge Daronco was one of three federal judges killed in the 20th century, together with John H. Wood, Jr. and Robert Smith Vance.

In his memory, the Westchester County Courthouse in White Plains, where Daronco had worked for many years as a state court judge, was later renamed the Richard J. Daronco Westchester County Courhouse. The municipal building adjacent to the town hall of Pelham, Daronco's hometown, was also renamed the Richard J. Daronco Town House in his honor. Outside the front entrance is mounted a plaque which reads:

The memorial plaque for Judge Daronco at the Pelham Town House

The Richard J. Daronco Town House
Dedicated with pride and affection
to the memory of the United States District Court Judge
Richard J. Daronco
For his integrity and wisdom as a jurist
For his dedication and service to his country and community
For his deep devotion to his faith
For this we will remember
By Resolution of Pelham Town Council

October 8, 1991

See also[edit]