There are things about Sen. Louis DeLuca's case that no one, including the senator himself, disputes.
``I pled guilty because I was,'' DeLuca told a Senate committee last Monday under oath. That guilty plea, for conspiracy to threaten, had its roots in a meeting with a trash hauler with alleged mob ties and their agreement that DeLuca's grandson-in-law would be roughed up.
DeLuca now admits he initially lied to the FBI about why he met with Danbury trash magnate James Galante, but he was never charged with a federal crime and instead pleaded guilty to a state misdemeanor charge for conspiring to threaten Waterbury car salesman Mark Colella. Colella is married to DeLuca's granddaughter.
So if these facts appear to be clear, why does the special bipartisan committee investigating DeLuca's case appear to be hesitant to pass judgment on his actions?
One important reason may be because, in some ways, the 36-member state Senate is one of Connecticut's most exclusive clubs.
The senators sit in their rococo chamber in their high-backed chairs -- in what they affectionately call ``the circle'' -- and soon develop a collegiality that often transcends partisanship. With that backdrop comes a reluctance to publicly criticize a fellow member -- lest ye be judged some day.
DeLuca has, thus far, at least publicly, received more sympathy than condemnation in the Senate.
When DeLuca was arrested in June, few of his fellow legislators rushed to judgment, with most, instead, withholding comment because, they said, they did not know all the details. As those details have spilled out over the past four months, some citizens and editorial writers have indicated they believe DeLuca should be expelled from the Senate, but only two of the 36 senators have called for him to resign.
One of the best-known observers of the Senate culture through the years -- former Sen. Kevin B. Sullivan of West Hartford -- says senators are obviously uncomfortable in deciding whether to reprimand, censure or expel a veteran colleague who has spent 17 years in the chamber.
``It is a very big deal -- unlike a dispute about issues -- to pass judgment on the qualifications of another member to serve. It's not something that is done easily,'' said Sullivan, who served in the chamber for 17 years before presiding over it as lieutenant governor for 2 1/2 years. ``People know each other. They have relationships. They have friendships.''
In the same fashion that U.S. Marines are reluctant to publicly criticize a fellow Marine, the legislators have that same mindset, one that is also prevalent in the legal and medical professions, Sullivan said.
Still, the spectacle that has been playing out at the state Capitol in public hearings will eventually end with no winners.
``It is awfully painful, awfully ugly,'' Sullivan said. ``The institution doesn't win. Sen. DeLuca doesn't win. His family doesn't win.''
Former Sen. Biagio ``Billy'' Ciotto agreed that it is clearly an uncomfortable time in the Senate.
``I watched it on TV the other day,'' Ciotto said, referring to last Monday's hearing on cable access TV, ``and it seems everybody on the committee wishes they weren't on the committee. Everybody feels a little pain, a little hurt, a little surprise.''
A Democrat who was known for encouraging bipartisan support in the Senate, Ciotto said the Senate culture discourages animosity.
``In 12 years there, I can't remember anyone getting up on the floor'' to criticize a colleague, Ciotto said. ``I feel there is that reluctance in the Senate to hit on another senator. There's 36 people. You get to know each other. ... Ronald Reagan said, `Speak no ill of fellow Republicans.'''
A friend of DeLuca's, Ciotto was known as a key player in celebrating their Italian heritage with an annual dinner in Middletown -- prompting the Senate to call a recess for hours so that members could travel south before returning to vote again in Hartford later that night.
``DeLuca has been a friend of mine for 13 years,'' said Ciotto, who will turn 78 on Christmas Day. ``I don't say he did right. But I'm also from another era that when a friend of mine needs help, you help. I feel sorry for the guy, OK? I still feel really sick for the guy. When you see your wife and your kids [seated behind him at the testimony], it's got to be killing him.''
But Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, a member of the chamber since 1995, said she cannot understand why more senators have not called for DeLuca to resign. Prague and Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury, who is running for the U.S. Congress against 5th District Democrat Chris Murphy, are the only ones to make that demand.
A fiery lawmaker who turns 82 next month, Prague said the six-member, bipartisan committee has been too soft on DeLuca.
``His resignation is absolutely required to maintain the integrity of the Senate,'' Prague said. ``His testimony -- arguing whether it should be under oath or not under oath -- was absolutely outrageous. There should have been no question that his testimony and the questions and answers should be under oath. I was very upset watching that hearing, thinking what a mockery of the Senate and the bipartisan committee it was. ... I feel the committee is not being tough. Would he have that option in court? I don't think so.''
Prague said she will vote against the committee's recommendation if it does not push for harsh punishment against DeLuca.
``That man should resign from the Senate, and if he doesn't resign, we should expel him,'' Prague said. ``If they don't vote to expel him, I will vote `no' on reprimand or censure.''
Committee members have repeatedly refused to give any indication of the punishment they might recommend for DeLuca, saying they are the equivalent of six jurors who should not speak while the trial is ongoing. The co-chairmen, Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, have refused to speculate on the odds that the committee would expel or reprimand DeLuca.
Prague herself admits that her outspoken views, and past clashes with DeLuca, precluded her from serving on the six-member, bipartisan committee. Those senators who were chosen are known for not jumping to conclusions and only making judgments after thorough, detailed analysis.
Contact Christopher Keating at email@example.com.