September 22, 2006

Re 2: Judge Decided on Station Fire Plea Deal

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. According to Roger Williams University Law Professor David Zlotnick, as reported by Kate Bramson on the Projo's 7-to-7 blog, a greater degree of secrecy is allowed in Rhode Island courts than is allowed in Federal courts...

A law professor at Roger Williams University says the controversy swirling around the Derderians' plea agreement highlights the downside of negotiating deals in secret....

It can be an efficient way to bring cases to closure. But there�s a downside, and Rhode Island is witnessing that right now, Zlotnick said today.

"Now the danger is: People are saying, 'I didn't say that,' 'I didn't mean that'", he said.
"That's the downside of allowing an informal system with judge participation. The downside is that sometimes people disagree about what happened in chambers and there's no court reporter in chambers and we don't know what happened."

That wouldn't have happened if this were a federal court case, Zlotnick said, because federal judges are not permitted to engage in plea-bargaining in closed chambers.

We appear to have yet another case of Rhode Island's weird civic culture concentrating power in the wrong places. The rules in Rhode Island seem to make judges into semi-prosecutors, who can help negotiate plea deals and make sentencing decisions before a complete case has been presented at trial.

This is not an appropriate role for a judge. A judge is supposed to apply the law impartially before and during a trial phase, without taking a position on what punishment defendants "should" get for crimes that have been committed. Judges are only human; if they are allowed to directly participate in plea negotiations, it is unavoidable that they will become emotionally invested in seeing certain outcomes brought about. That may be a large part of what has happened here.

Rhode Island rules concerning judges and plea negotiations should be changed to more closely resemble the Federal rules in this area.

2. As Dave Kane has discussed (noted by Marc), the families and friends of the fire victims live with the Station tragedy every day, no matter what the legal process says or does. It's doubtful that the day or two of extra secrecy that Judge Francis Darigan wanted would have changed much. But deciding on a sentence for the Derderians, before the victims have had the chance to present their side, has reinforced a tragic sense of powerlessness and become a real source of further harm.

3. It is still unclear why Kathleen Hagerty, defense lawyer for Michael Derderian, is insisting that who offered the deal be publically acknowledged, to the point of making unusually detailed revelations about plea negotiations (the handwritten note, the phone message from Assistant AG William Ferland).

Given the circumstances, the Derderians got an outcome very favorable to them. Why does making public the way in which the deal came about matter to their lawyers?

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Your very last statement is very relevant and very much the real point here. The way the deal came about wouldn't matter to the Derderians lawyers who as you correctly point out had this case work out very nicely for them.
So that begs the question WHAT IS IT that has set-off these lawyers to the point of making documents and voicemails avaibable to the media? What has so angered these WINNING lawyers that they felt compelled to respond through the media?
Perhaps a series of blatant misrepresentations (lies) from the Attorney General of this state is what angered these winning lawyers into publicly rebuking the AG?
Lynch is a scumbag.
This whole plea deal came to light only after 3 of Lynch's lawyers went to the courthouse to visit Judge Darigan and to deliver a copy of Lynch's letter he planned to send to the families only to have that very letter show up on the 6 oclock news 15 minutes later.
Lynch isn't about to investigate this most heartless of insensitive insults to the victims and families because he knows who did it. His own people.
Lynch is a scumbag and has behaved badly.
That's why the WINNING lawyers are so pissed off.

Posted by: Tim at September 22, 2006 5:41 PM

There's no question Lynch was trying to have it both ways and the only beneficiary was himself. He will go down in RI history as one of the worst public officials this state has ever seen.

Posted by: Anthony at September 22, 2006 5:52 PM

Let's see. The permanent prosecutors on the AG's staff pride themselves on being a top notch and thoroughly professional team. People who leave the office for private practice share these feelings. Could it be that they too resented seeing one of their own tossed under the bus for the sake of the boss's political career?

Posted by: John at September 22, 2006 5:59 PM

over on rifuture, it is only ripop defending lyn\

Posted by: roadrunner at September 22, 2006 8:13 PM

sorry...Treo600 not perfect for this..... the dems don't want to touch this can o'worms

Posted by: roadrunner at September 22, 2006 8:17 PM

.... Now I get it. Thank you, Tim.

Judge Darigan was going to take the heat and presumably thought it was for the public good. (It wasn't. No judge should protect the political career of an elected official and the AG should have been willing to stand behind the decision of his office.)

But Lynch ticked Darigan off by too quickly releasing his own c.y.a., self-promotional letter. So Darigan decided after all not to take the fall. (Welcome back from the dark side, Judge.)

Posted by: SusanD at September 22, 2006 11:19 PM


Very well put. I personally don't think Frank Darigan was ever trying to protect Pat Lynch because I don't believe Pat Lynch is respected all that much by the judiciary. The leaking by Lynch of his CYA letter to the media is a fine sampling of the unprofessional and boorish nature of this AG and the way he conducts the peoples business. In my opinion Judge Darigan took this deal because Judge Darigan was tired of the games coming from the AG's office.
Sophomoric and immature does not begin to tell the story on how business is conducted on South Main St.
A true embarrassment for ALL Rhode Islanders.

Posted by: Tim at September 24, 2006 11:41 AM