NEW HAVEN, Conn. — An 87-year-old Connecticut woman doesn't have to split her share of a $500,000 lottery jackpot with the 84-year-old sister she hasn't spoken to since they began fighting over the windfall in 2005, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Rose Bakaysa and Theresa Sokaitis stopped speaking shortly after Bakaysa refused to give Sokaitis any winnings from the Powerball jackpot, split by Bakaysa and their brother, Joseph Troy Sr. A judge ruled Wednesday that Bakaysa can keep her share.
"There is something in this tragedy that touches most people," New Britain Superior Court Judge Cynthia Swienton wrote in her decision. "While the court may be able to resolve the legal dispute, it is powerless to repair the discord and strife that now overshadows the once harmonious sisterly relationship."
Sokaitis says they signed a notarized contract a decade earlier to split all gambling profits, but Bakaysa says that deal ended in 2004 during a spat over a few hundred dollars. The judge ruled that the contract ended during the argument.
It was Sokaitis who told her sister during the argument that she didn't want to be her partner anymore, the judge said, noting that after the argument the sisters never again bought lottery tickets, went to the casino or gambled together.
William Sweeney, Bakaysa's attorney, said he was grateful for the decision.
"This has been a long and difficult journey since this litigation began in August of 2005," Sweeney said in a statement. "Rose is hopeful that this decision will be the end of that journey and that time will allow the bonds that have been broken by this case to heal."
A telephone message was left Wednesday for Sokaitis' attorney, Samuel M. Pollack.
Bakaysa and Sokaitis were among nine siblings in their family, sharing a bond that included buying lottery tickets together and making regular road trips to Connecticut casinos in search of jackpot riches.
The notarized contract had its roots in an earlier win: a $165,000 haul that Sokaitis won playing poker at Foxwoods in 1995 while her sister was playing slots nearby. Sokaitis testified she intended to split it evenly with Bakaysa and gave her about $64,000 of it in payments over time, with about $18,000 still unpaid at the time of their 2004 rift.
Bakaysa testified that the end of their partnership came in a fight over a few hundred dollars, shortly after Bakaysa stayed with Sokaitis for a few weeks while recovering from heart surgery.
Sokaitis says that she thought the dispute would get resolved in time, and that she never said or intended for it to end their relationship – or their notarized contract.
But Bakaysa says Sokaitis told her over the phone that she didn't want to be partners any longer, so Bakaysa tore up her copy of the contract and started gambling instead with their brother. About a year later, a ticket he purchased using Bakaysa's numbers won $500,000.
Bakaysa said that because Troy bought the ticket, she couldn't have split it with her sister even if she wanted to.
The case has wound through Connecticut courts since 2005.
A judge had dismissed Sokaitis' lawsuit under a Connecticut law that makes gambling contracts illegal.
But the state Supreme Court, in a ruling that took effect in August, said the sisters' agreement wasn't covered by that law because it involves legal activities. It said the case could go to trial.