October 2, 2006

Did Judge Darigan Short-Circuit the Derderian Trials on His Own, or Did the Defense And the Attorney General Ask Him To?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Up until Friday, the quasi-official narrative of the disposition of the Derderian trial was that all sides wanted a plea deal, but could not agree on a sentence. Becoming frustrated with an impasse in the negotiations (and perhaps with some confusion within the Attorney General's office), Judge Francis Darigan directly negotiated a sentence with the defendants, over the objection of the Attorney General, in return for a nolo contendre plea.

However, in his formal sentencing statement on Friday, despite taking "full and total responsibility for the acceptance of these pleas and for the sentences which will be imposed on the Defendants", Judge Darigan described a process different from the quasi-official line. Here is the relevant part of Judge Darigan's statement (via The Dan Yorke Show's document archive)...

This Court was well aware that all parties desired to conclude these cases without a trial. As the structure of theses (sic) cases and the issues for the trial became clearer and more crystallized, the Court began to share this opinion.

As the date for the trial approached, the Defendants clearly indicated to the Court and the Attorney General's Office that they wished to change their pleas.

It was at this time that the parties asked the Court if it would accept a change in the pleas and impose sentences to which the State, if it wished, could object.

In legal parlance, "the parties" usually refers to both sides, the prosecution and the defense. If that is the meaning here, something different from a judge taking it upon himself to negotiate with the defense in order to resolve a case is being described. Instead, we have both sides -- Attorney General and Defense -- asking Judge Darigan to step in and end the case.

There is the qualifier -- Judge Darigan says that the State retained a right to "object" even after they asked him to impose a sentence. Does that mean that when the Attorney General's office asked Judge Darigan to impose a sentence, they thought they were retaining the right not to accept a deal (but if they were worried that they would not like the Judge's decision, why ask the Judge to step in in the first place?) or does retaining the right to "object" simply mean that the AG's office remained free to express displeasure with the sentences imposed by the Judge (but why does the AG's office need the permission of the Judge to express their opinion after a case has been decided?).

Despite Judge Darigan's attempt to lay out the provenance of this ruling in detail, it is still unclear whether he believed he was acting in concert with both parties or in concert with just the defense at the time he decided on a sentence.

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I'd engage this conversation if I actually thought that the AG's clear attempt at saving his bacon by making this deal and then pretending it's not his idea could result in his losing the election in November but the longer I live here the more I believe that:

A. Rhode Islanders are too friggin stupid to make a right decision even when it's easy to make.

B. The Republican Party in this state couldn't win a raffle if they bought all the tickets.

Posted by: Greg at October 2, 2006 12:54 PM

" ... Judge Darigan says that the State retained a right to object even after they asked him to impose a sentence."

That's right, Andrew, was this a statement that the AG had the ability to make a genuine objection?

It looks like, as the AG did object and it got him nowhere, that the judge was simply foreshadowing the AG's dramatic but hollow hissy fit.

Posted by: SusanD at October 2, 2006 2:46 PM

you've hit the nail on the head with this one, andrew.

here are the facts:

1. darigan took it upon himself to excercise his right as a judge to accept a deal which had been on the table between both parties (ie the defense and ag's office)

2. while lynch objected to the sentence of jeff derderian, he has yet to object to the plea bargain in itself.

Bottom line: Lynch, Darigan, and the defense all wanted this thing over for their own reasons

What are those reasons?

Lynch: Nov. 7

Darigan: Genuine exhaustion over this case, Nov. 7

Defense: 4 and 0 for 100 dead and 200 injured. This was a HUGE victory for the defense team of the two individuals the AG has maintained is the most responsible for the fire

Posted by: johnb at October 2, 2006 10:15 PM

Excellent points, all. This is getting weirder and weirder, but is starting to come into better focus. Harsch really needs to try to get out in front of this in the media more -- it's just too good to pass up. This is so blatantly a political football that no one who can suffer from it (incumbent elected official) wants to hold on to, as to be absurdly so. The judge simply did what he needed to do, because the AG was too unwilling to potentially take the heat from something he himself knew full well about and actually initiated through his subordinate. It's just sick.

What a tangled web we weave, when in order to deceive.

Posted by: Will at October 3, 2006 12:23 AM