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7-Year-old Case Led to Judge’s Murder

May 23, 1988 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ The federal judge who was gunned down at his suburban home had ignored warnings from his staff to take his address out of the phone book, telling them, ″It’s fate. ... If they really want you, they’ll find you.″

The seven-year sexual harassment and job discrimination suit of Carolee Koster came to District Judge Richard J. Daronco in his first year on the federal bench. After he ruled against her, her angered father tracked the judge down and killed him, and then killed himself a few feet away, officials said.

The gunman was identified as Charles L. Koster, a retired New York City police officer.

″I knew it was related to this case. It was just a feeling I had,″ Karen Stefflre, one of Daronco’s two law clerks, said Monday, describing her thoughts when she heard that the judge had been killed.

″I knew as soon as I heard. I knew,″ she said, fighting back tears during an interview with reporters in Daronco’s chambers. ″The only thing that threw me off was that he (the gunman) killed himself.″

Ms. Stefflre said she and other members of the judge’s staff urged him to remove his listing in the telephone directory, but he shrugged it off, saying, ″It’s fate. You can’t really hide. If they really want you, they’ll find you.″

Another law clerk, Christopher Forte, said the judge rode public transportation from Pelham, the affluent Westchester County community where he lived, to the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan.

″He would talk to anyone,″ said Forte.

James C. Esposito, deputy assistant director in the FBI’s New York office, said Sunday that Koster left a suicide note expressing ″strong displeasure″ at Daronco’s ruling last Thursday dismissing Carolee Koster’s lawsuit.

On Saturday afternoon, officials said, Koster shot the judge as Daronco tended his garden and followed him into the house, where the judge died in his study and Koster killed himself with a shot to the head.

Ms. Koster, 38, of Manhattan, sued in 1981 claiming sexual harassment and salary discrimination by Chase Manhattan Bank, where she was employed in a management position, and her former boss, Allan Ross.

During the seven years of litigation, Daronco, appointed to the federal bench last June, was the third judge to handle the case.

Marshall E. Lippman, who represented Ms. Koster from 1983 to 1985, said lawyers for Chase and Ross defended the case aggressively and numerous pretrial motions were filed by both sides. At least two changes of lawyers by Ms. Koster added to the delay, he said.

Lippman said he withdrew from the case over strategy differences with Ms. Koster, and she began to represent herself.

She was communicating directly with the judge and other parties in the lawsuit, which ″made my job difficult to impossible,″ he said.

He said she became impatient with him and the case became ″almost a vendetta against both the bank and Mr. Ross ... almost a case of justifying her existence, all of the emotional torment that she had been through.″

Ms. Stefflre said Ms. Koster twice turned down settlements - once before trial and once after it started.

Ms. Koster could not be located by The Associated Press for comment Monday, and her Manhattan phone number is unlisted, but the New York Post reported she said she had turned down a $300,000 settlement.

″I refused, but today I’m sorry I didn’t say yes,″ she reportedly said.

A spokesman for Chase Manhattan, Fraser Seitel, said, ″We won’t have any comment on that. It is not unusual in a situation where protracted litigation may result to discuss settlement.″

Ms. Koster told the newspaper her father believed the judge was biased against her.

″I still love my father,″ she said. ″I’m sorry about what happened, but I believe he thought he was doing something out of love, too.″

Koster, a security guard from 1971 to 1981 at the Chase Manhattan branch where his daughter worked, spent much of his life savings on the case, the FBI official said.

″The Koster family was totally consumed with this case and it had become a crusade in their lives,″ Esposito said.