Widely reported as a feud over a half-million dollar winning lottery ticket between two octogenarian sisters, close friends their first 70 years, it turns out to have been a fight over a $250 debt. In 1995, Terry Sokaitis and Rose Bakaysa, each now close to 90 years old, signed a written agreement saying they were partners in a longstanding and fun gambling program, winnings to be split equally. In 2005, a lottery ticket Rose bought with their brother won $500,000. Terry wanted her share but Rose refused. Rose said they rescinded the 1995 deal during a heated 2004 telephone argument.
Within weeks, Terry sued Rose for breach of contract. In court, Rose also argued that any deal they had was unenforceable because it amounted to an illegal bargain under state anti-gambling statutes. As I reported, the Connecticut Supreme Court resolved that narrow issue against Rose, showing how the ancient statute was functionally superseded by a host of legalized state gambling that put contracts to split lottery ticket winnings outside its scope. Back in the trial court, five years after Terry sued, Rose asserted the rescission defense and after a trial in the spring, a judge found that rescission valid.
The unreported opinion adds details to this sad tale, sisters tight for 70 years, through marriage, illness, and all, turning bitter when they couldn’t agree on whether Rose had loaned Terry $250 or $100, and over whether Terry had any money to repay her. During the heated talk that resulted, Terry yelled that she didn’t want to be Rose’s gambling partner anymore and Rose said okay. The sisters haven’t spoken since. That Rose won the half million with their brother a year later seems to have sealed the bitterness. In her opinion after trial, Connecticut Judge Cynthia Sweinton reprints a letter Terry wrote Rose as their legal battle intensified. It’s a tear-jerker, be warned, but it follows. (I have corrected some spelling and grammar mistakes.)
Judge Sweinton, before concluding her opinion, wrote resonantly: “There is something in this tragedy that touches most people. 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.”