June 15, 2006

No One is Above the Law, Except for Employees of the Rhode Island Court System

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at the RI Law Journal, Jon Pincince points out something odd about the reacton to the Projo’s inquiries about $42 million in assessed but unpaid fines. The Projo asked for a list, mandated by law, of who hadn't paid the fines they owe…

The Journal has been asking the courts since March how much in fines from the last six years is outstanding and who hasn't paid. Court officials initially rejected the request, saying the law doesn't require the release of such information.
Actually, the law does require the information to be released. Mr. Pincince points us to the relevant section of Rhode Island law
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the director of the finance section on a quarterly basis shall prepare a list of the persons who owe court imposed or court related fees, fines, court costs, assessments, charges and/or any other monetary obligations which have been unpaid for a period in excess of ninety (90) days from the date that any such amounts were due…

Any such list prepared by the director of finance shall be available to the public for inspection and shall be published by the director of the finance on the website that is maintained by the courts. Provided, however, that any such list prepared by the director shall not include any individuals social security number.

However, according to the Projo, the courts have not been complying…
State law currently requires the judiciary to produce a list four times a year of all the people who have outstanding fines in the Superior and District courts and the Traffic Tribunal. The list was supposed to include names, addresses and the amounts owed. The information was also required to be posted on a court Web site. The courts have never generated such a list or posted it online.
Rhode Island Court Administrator Joseph Baxter told the Projo that the disclosure law was not being obeyed because “the courts” thought it was unconstitutional. However, that opinion has never been rendered in any case heard in the RI Court system. Mr. Pincince asks at what point being employee of the court system came to mean that you get to pick and choose which laws you will obey…
Can employees of the Rhode Island judiciary disregard a statute that mandates certain action when “the courts” believe the statute is unconstitutional? While this issue has been discussed in terms of whether “the courts” have complied with the law and whether “the courts” believe the law is constitutional, the statute speaks in terms of requiring the “director of the finance section” to prepare the list of persons who owe fines and to publish that list on a web site maintained by the courts. It seems to me that the director of the finance section would have two options: (1) comply with the law, or (2) challenge the law in the courts. Instead, the director of finance, or someone higher up in the judiciary’s chain of command, made an unofficial, out-of-court determination that the law is unconstitutional and need not be complied with.
The courts aren’t the only branch that has been acting weirdly here. Members of the House Judiciary Committee also initially tried to protect the identities of people who haven’t paid their fines, though the move ultimately failed. Again, from the Projo story…
The original version of the bill voted on yesterday, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Donald J. Lally Jr., D-Wakefield, and filed May 18, would have eliminated disclosure requirements or limited them to Traffic Tribunal fines.

The revised version, which the committee passed, put them back in, requiring the courts to prepare a quarterly list of people who have owed fines for more than 90 days, are not part of a court-ordered payment plan and are not appealing the fines.

Given that the reporting of fines is a fairly innocuous requirement, it’s hard not to wonder about who Mr. Baxter and the sponsors of the original legislation that would have ended the disclosure requirement are trying to protect.

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Kinda makes you wonder how many fines Prof. Michaud and Scum Duffault owe the state, doesn't it?

Posted by: Greg at June 15, 2006 12:38 PM

Sad to say but the Rhode Island judiciary isn't much cleaner than the other corrupt elements in the state.
No question it's gotten better but there are still too many things that fall in favor of the CONNECTED on all levels in our judiciary.
Beacon Mutual, the ultimate connected company, is a great example.
Every court action, with 2 different judges and the Supreme court, has gone Beacon's way including Judge Fundberg who stopped the regulatory agency DBR from actually doing their job when it came to Beacon.
Lately this entire state smells as though it were low tide on a 95 degree day.
The outrageous judicial scam with these milliions of dollars worth of fines is just the latest and largest example of corruption in a robe.

Posted by: Tim at June 16, 2006 7:25 AM