John R. Skok went to New London Superior Court Monday to plead guilty to helping his wife steal the life savings of an elderly woman they had befriended, but wound up taking a breathalyzer after officials suspected he was drunk.
Judges routinely “canvas” defendants who are pleading guilty to determine whether they fully understand the proceeding. One line of questioning involves whether they have had any alcohol or drugs that would impair their judgment.
Judge Hillary B. Strackbein, who had been told that Skok appeared intoxicated, asked him about alcohol as soon as he stood before her. Though he said he had not had a drink in months, she ordered him to report to the Office of Adult Probation immediately for a breathalyzer test. He returned to the courtroom about an hour later with the test results. His blood alcohol level was .14.
His attorney, Michael A. Jewell, said it is no secret that his client is an alcoholic but that Skok appeared capable of understanding the proceedings.
“He can just sniff (alcohol) and be a .14,” Jewell said. He said also that the court official who tested Skok could not tell him the last time the machine had been calibrated.
Prosecutor Lawrence J. Tytla said that somebody pleading guilty to a felony charge involving prison time needs to be “absolutely sober.”
Strackbein raised Skok’s bond to $50,000 and asked that he be taken into custody. She continued the case for a week.
Skok is the husband of Joanne Skok, formerly known as Joanne Rochette, a career swindler who was sentenced in August to 10 years in prison for stealing more than $40,000 from Jacqueline Becker of Montville.
Tytla said John Skok, who helped his wife pull off the elaborate scam, was expected to accept the state’s offer to plead guilty in exchange for a year in prison. During his wife’s trial, Skok had fallen off a bench outside the courtroom and was removed from the courthouse.