July 26, 2008

After a World Wide Search

Monique Chartier

... once again, an open position in the Rhode Island court system goes to someone connected to the General Assembly.

An assistant legal counsel to the Senate majority leader has been chosen for a $128,650-a-year job as a Family Court magistrate.

Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. last week selected Colleen M. Hastings and Armando O. Monaco II for a pair of Family Court magistrate jobs, which carry 10-year terms. The appointments are now subject to Senate confirmation.

Hastings has been assistant legal counsel to Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, since 2006, and she has been president and owner of a Newport law firm called the Family Law Center of Rhode Island since 1993.

The ProJo's Edward Fitzpatrick reviews the "precedents".

Other recent court appointees have had ties to the General Assembly leadership.

For example, Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams last month chose R. David Cruise, chief of staff to Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano, D-North Providence, to be a Traffic Tribunal magistrate. Last year, Williams chose William R. Guglietta, chief legal counsel to House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, to be the Traffic Tribunal’s chief magistrate. And Governor Carcieri last year chose Montalbano’s chief legal counsel, William E. Carnes Jr., to be a Superior Court judge.

On another front, Christine Lopes, Executive Director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, points to the abridged procedure whereby magistrates are selected.

[She] said the latest magistrate appointments provide additional examples of why the government watchdog group believes that magistrates should go through the same merit-selection process that applies to state judges. That process, which was approved by voters in a 1994 state constitutional amendment, involves public hearings and screening by the Judicial Nominating Commission.

“In Family Court, they have expanded the duties of magistrates to reflect those of judges,” Lopes said. “They are a clear example of magistrates performing the functions of judges, and they should be appointed by the public process.”

Lopes said candidates such as Hastings might be the most highly qualified applicants for a job. But, she said, “Their connection to political leadership and the way they were appointed continues to raise flags. I don’t know these people. They might be great legal minds, and they might do great things in the courts. But when they are appointed this way, it clouds the issue.”

In a Providence Journal OpEd last October, Attorney Keven [edit; spelling corrected] McKenna also expressed reservations about this method.

CHIEF JUSTICE Frank Williams’s Oct. 11 [2007] “appointment” of William R. Guglietta, chief legal counsel to Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox (D.-Providence), to the position of chief magistrate of the state Traffic Tribunal was an impeachable act, a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of powers, and a violation of the chief justice’s oath to enforce the state constitution.

A chief justice is not a governor. Constitutional officers are prohibited from exercising the power of other constitutional officers. In the 2004 separation of powers constitutional amendments, the governor was delegated by the electors the same powers of appointment as a U.S. president to appoint principal officers of the state.

The position of chief magistrate is such a “principal officer.” It has not only the same powers as a judge, but also the power to appoint other Traffic Tribunal magistrates within the judicial branch. Magistrates themselves are also principal officers of the state, subject to appointment by the governor.

Pursuant to the will of the electors expressed in the 1994 merit-selection constitutional amendment, judges are to be appointed by the governor, after recommendation by the Judicial Nominating Commission, with the subsequent approval of the Senate. A judge is an officer who enters judgments. Magistrates enter judgments. Magistrates must be appointed by the governor.

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Are you saying that cronyism is alive and well in the Ocean State?

Posted by: Citizen Critic at July 26, 2008 3:24 PM

I almost forgot to mention the following website which is a central repository of articles on Chief Justice Frank Williams:


Posted by: Citizen Critic at July 26, 2008 3:36 PM

It's actually "Keven" McKenna, not Kevin.

And he is completely wrong as it relates to the role of Magistrates. In the U.S. District Court, the Magistrates are appointed by the vote of a majority of the sitting U.S. District Court Judges in the District (and they are not subject to U.S. Senate confirmation) 28 U.S.C. sec. 631.

And in Rhode Island (as in U.S. District Court) judgments by these magistrate are generally reviewable by a justice of the court to which the magistrate is attached (i.e., Superior or Family, as the case may be).

This practice of appointment by the Chief Justice (or the Chief Judge of the particular court) is completely consistent with the doctrine of separation of powers as set forth in the "Appointments Clause" of U.S. Const. Art. II, sec. 2, para. 2 and the most recently amended version of R.I. Const. Art. IX, sec. 5 (which is based upon the Appointments Clause):

The governor shall, by and with the advice and consent of the senate, appoint all officers of the state whose appointment is not herein otherwise provided for and all members of any board, commission or other state or quasi-public entity which exercises executive power under the laws of this state; but the general assembly may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they deem proper, in the governor, or within their respective departments in the other general officers, the judiciary or in the heads of departments.

And if you think the federal system is any better, you should keep in mind that one of our present U.S. Magistrate Judges is the son of former Gov. Lincoln Almond (That's not to say he's unqualified, but lets not kid ourselves about whether family connections play any role in that system).

Posted by: brassband at July 26, 2008 4:20 PM


I'm always happy to be edumacated as to who appoints what, but can anyone tell me why we have so GD many judges of all stripes, titles and persuasions? And why they are tenured for life with benefits and pensions that would make a union chief green with envy? How do the numbers of judges today compare to 50 years ago (and on a per capita basis, too)? Not really an assignment for Brass, but I'd sure like to find out, if anyone knows.

Posted by: chuckR at July 26, 2008 4:46 PM

I can remeber 40 years ago. I would say when you add all the judges under whatever titles there are well over triple. Maybe quadruple.
Of course firemen and cops have doubled too. Not to mention JCLS, Capital Tv and sooooooo much more.

Posted by: Mike at July 26, 2008 7:45 PM

After a World Wide Search

Lincoln Almond JR



Posted by: Stash at July 26, 2008 8:39 PM

Now tell us about Steve Kass' appointment.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at July 26, 2008 11:27 PM

I can't give you stats on the growth in the judiciary, because I don't know what the numbers were in the past.

No doubt there are magistrate positions at the state level that did not exist in the past, but the number of Supreme Court Justices (5) has remained the same, the number of judges on the Superior and Family Court has grown very little, and the District Court has remained static.

With regard to Magistrates -- both at the federal and state level -- they are not appointed for life but for terms (10 years in most cases).

As for Magistrate Almond, he has been nominated for promotion to U.S. District Judge (which would be a life tenured position) by President Bush, but it does not appear that there has been any impetus toward confirming him by the Senate.

Posted by: brassband at July 26, 2008 11:33 PM

Stash - why would you think I approve of Almond's appointment? You should look beyond presenting a political 'moral equivalent'. The larger issue is do we have too many people working (or not) in government. And by whose determination are there 600K 'right wing' lawyers? There are almost 1 million lawyers - claiming 600K are right wing is ludicrous.

OTL - it is the perogative of the governor to appoint whatever poltroon he wants to a short term position in the executive branch. The question I ask - is the position itself worthwhile? I will ask the same question if and when a Democrat is elected.

Brass - thanks for the update.

Posted by: chuckR at July 27, 2008 8:42 AM

Brassband, thanks for correcting the information on Magistrate Almond's status. It appears that the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy may be dealt a serious set back.


1.) If Mr. Almond was made a magistrate on anything other than merit, it was wrong and unacceptable.

2.) On the flip side, inasmuch as the US Senate won't even hold hearings on the judicial nominations it has been sent, what is your view of the Senate rejecting him and others by fiat rather than on the basis of merit?

Posted by: Monique at July 27, 2008 8:58 AM

Wow, I guess Frank Williams isn't going to take any chances on building the new courthouse. Sooner or later everyone will be on the payroll.

Posted by: Anthony at July 27, 2008 10:54 PM

Keven McKenna isn't always on the right side (does he officially count as a VRWC lawyer, too?), but when it comes to constitutional issues and Frank "Dishonest Abe" Williams, he's almost always right on the money.

I have to admit that this whole "process" seems a lot tidier than stuffing small unmarked bills into manila envelopes.

Apparently, despite their educations, they aren't very familiar with the term "quid pro quo."

Posted by: Will at July 28, 2008 1:01 AM
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