5-8-2001 A civic watchdog group has touched off a furious legal battle in its attempt to check into reports that the top judge of the state Workers' Compensation Court, Chief Judge Robert F. Arrigan, is absent too often from work. Operation Clean Government has taken the unusual step of suing Chief Judge Robert F. Arrigan, hoping to force him to turn over records that it says might show when he is on the job.
But an angry Arrigan says that he is insulted by the suggestion that he doesn't work hard -- when he says he often puts in long days and he has mounted a vigorous counterattack. In an hour-long interview with The Providence Journal, Arrigan provided records he said show he is the court's top performer in terms of numbers of cases handled in the past 10 years, despite extra administrative duties that come with his job as chief judge. "If you look at the docket, you'll find that I'm at least a 10-hour-a-day person," Arrigan said. "I'm working far in excess of 1,800 hours a year, which would equate to never taking a vacation. I don't know how much more time I can possibly give the state."
One of the volatile aspects of the case is an attempt by Operation Clean Government to require Arrigan, two other Workers' Compensation Court judges and some court employees to give sworn statements at a lawyer's office. That's a common move in civil court cases, as a means of getting information before a court hearing. But it's unusual to request that a state judge sit for a deposition.
Yesterday, Arrigan's lawyer filed papers in Superior Court, seeking to throw out requests for a deposition that would require Arrigan to go to a North Providence law office tomorrow. J. Renn Olenn, Arrigan's lawyer, also filed other papers seeking court-imposed sanctions -- including possible fines -- against Operation Clean Government, saying it has abused the legal process with the deposition requests. "What we want is a change in behavior, so that Operation Clean Government and its attorneys investigate matters more carefully and have a reasonable basis for filing a suit, and not try to use the legal system to horsewhip a public official," Olenn said.
But Leon A. Blais, who is a member of Operation Clean Government and a separate plaintiff in the case, said the countermoves by Arrigan would be better directed in simply providing documents that show what his work habits are. "They are trying to intimidate and harass us," Blais said. "We have been through that before, and we will not be intimidated or harassed in any way. As far as we are concerned, it's full-steam ahead." Robert P. Arruda, chairman of Operation Clean Government, said the group wants to investigate reports that the judge has been away from the court more than 100 days each year during the past three years. The group doesn't know whether the allegations are true, Arruda said, saying that he got the reports from sources that he would not name. Arruda said that Operation Clean Government wants the judge's attendance records to check the accuracy of the claims. But he said Arrigan is blocking release of some records.
As a result, the group has also filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission, contending that Arrigan is in conflict by participating in decisions that could lead to disclosures about his own job performance. Blais said that Arrigan's alleged withholding of the records itself is worrisome. "When you are trying to check out attendance and someone puts up such barriers to deter you, you have to admit, you get suspicious," said Blais, who was an investigator for former state Atty. Gen. Arlene Violet. But Arrigan said that he offered pertinent records -- dockets that detail courtroom activity -- and that the group has failed to follow up in obtaining them.
In raising new questions about Arrigan, Operation Clean Government said it first asked for his attendance records on Feb. 13. Although the request for the information was made to Dennis I. Revens, the Workers' Compensation Court administrator, Arrigan took charge of the process, the lawsuit asserts. What's more, the papers claim that Arrigan said his staff determined it would cost $3,137 to find and copy court dockets. Arruda and Blais called that price too high, especially for documents that might not contain the information they are looking for.
The records that Operation Clean Government is most interested in, Blais said, are judges' attendance records it believes are kept by Revens, who is also being sued in the case. Another set is an accounting of vacation time for all Compensation Court judges, which Blais said is kept by a secretary who works for Arrigan. Olenn, Arrigan's lawyer, said there are two types of dockets: schedules of cases to be heard; and sheets accompanying each case, tracking its progress in detail.
These are public records that show the work of various judges, Olenn said. The cost of copying those documents is in line with those of other papers, and wasn't arbitrarily determined, he said. Arruda and Blais said the government watchdog group has yet to determine just what might constitute a reasonable work schedule for an official such as Arrigan. "The general formula is that state employees are supposed to be there when the office, court, is open," Blais said. "I don't think it's our business to try to tie him to a desk," Blais continued, "but frankly, a lot of people believe he is not there when he should be."
Arrigan, soon after the suit was filed April 17, agreed to a Journal interview in his office at 7 a.m., when he said he normally begins work. But then Olenn said he was canceling the interview, so the two could look at the issues in the case. Yesterday, Arrigan, with Olenn looking on, talked about the case. The chief judge did not offer timesheets or other attendance documents, saying that, as "non-standard" state workers, judges aren't required to have such records. But he did produce a 6-inch stack of papers that shows the workload of the court, including a breakdown of what he said shows how many cases judges on the court handle.
After filing the court case, Operation Clean Government's lawyer, John B. Webster, sent notices of deposition hearing to Revens, Judges John Rotundi Jr., Arrigan and Healy, and to a secretary at the court, Theresa Healey. Robert D. Oster, president of the Rhode Island Bar Association, said judges can be required to give depositions in some circumstances. In a civil case such as this, Oster said, it might be possible for lawyers to summon a judge to a deposition, as long as it doesn't involve a court case that the judge was hearing. In a dispute about a court case, the judge would be protected by "judicial immunity," he said. To continue, Bev Clay from OCG published the following in Projo:
2.19.2002 IN THE DEC. 12 commentary,
"Judge Arrigan's fine job," Cheryl Tremblay and George Nee praised
Robert Arrigan, chief judge of the workers' compensation court, for
his accomplishments in the court, and then leveled an attack on
Operation Clean Government for its actions against the judge.
Their interest in matters at the workers compensation court is manifest. The piece identifies Tremblay as president of the Workers Compensation Association of Rhode Island Employers and Nee as secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island unit of the AFL-CIO. Nee failed to disclose that he is also chairman of the Workers Compensation Advisory Council and has long served as a member of the Board of Directors of Beacon Mutual Insurance Company, which writes 70 percent of the workers' compensation insurance in Rhode Island. Beacon's legal team appears before Judge Arrigan on a regular basis.
Specifically, Tremblay and Nee referred to the second OCG ethics complaint against Arrigan, dated last Nov. 20. This complaint alleges that the chief judge failed to disclose on his financial statements from 1995-2000 his positions as officer and director of the International Workers' Compensation Foundation (IWCF) and the International Association of Industrial Accidents Boards and Commissions. Tremblay and Nee claim "these 'professional organizations' are nonprofit educational endeavors that hold seminars and forums focusing on workers' compensation" and indicated, for these reasons, that the chief judge did not have to disclose his association with these organizations.
Their conclusion is incorrect. Question 9 of the financial statement, which must be filed annually with the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, clearly requires disclosure of affiliation with non-profit organizations. Judge Arrigan has been president and director of both organizations at different times during the years specified in the complaint.
Tremblay and Nee suggest: "Perhaps if the members of this group [OCG] had attended any of the professional forums at issue, they would have observed the tireless dedication and hours put in by Chief Judge Arrigan to better Rhode Island's workers' compensation system." We assume they are referring to the three-day conferences the IWCF has sponsored in Newport for the last four years, while Judge Arrigan served as its president. OCG research indicates that during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2000, IWCF ran similar educational conferences in four other states, netting over $700,000.
Members of the OCG research team have spoken with people who have attended the Newport forums and the only IWCF documents they have received are the spiral-bound program booklets for the conference, listing the exhibitors, the speakers and their résumés. We have yet to find any evidence of research on workers' compensation or publications by the IWCF, even though the IWCF incorporation papers, filed in Indiana in 1988, and their IRS filings state the purpose of the foundation is to promote research and analysis of issues concerning workers' compensation, and to develop, print and distribute educational materials. They have not documented the number of their publications issued, as required in their IRS filing.
These Arrigan supporters also declare that IWCF leaders are "dedicated judges and administrators of workers' compensation courts from around the world," but their nine board members come from the United States, with two from the Rhode Island Workers' Compensation Court. There are no other members of this organization.
They claim these conferences provide "an economic benefit to our state in the form of out-of-state attendees." Hardly so, since, of the 153 listed attendees at the 2001 Rhode Island conference, only 38 were from out of state. Of the 115 Rhode Island attendees, 54 were employees of the State of Rhode Island (registered at a cost of $250 to $350 each, many at the expense of Rhode Island taxpayers).
OCG has received detailed anonymous information about Judge Arrigan's frequent absences from the court. Considering this along with questions we have about Arrigan's IWCF activities, we filed a request for Arrigan's attendance records with Dennis Revens, administrator of the Workers' Compensation Court. Arrigan intercepted this request and directed Revens to inform OCG that all future correspondence must go through Judge Arrigan or the state court administrator.
When the court failed to produce the requested records regarding the chief judge's attendance, we filed suit in superior court. Arrigan's secretary testified before Superior Court Judge Patricia Hurst that the attendance records she keeps are destroyed every January. It is unimaginable that a court system, any court system, would sanction such sloppy office practices.
Another set of detailed records of the judge's attendance, admittedly kept by Mr. Revens, was determined by Judge Hurst to be Revens' own personal records and therefore not available to the public.
We also filed a complaint with the ethics commission for what we considered to be a conflict: Judge Arrigan taking control of our request to the court administrator for Arrigan's attendance records. Subsequently, the ethics commission dismissed the complaint without addressing the alleged conflict, only stating there were no such records.
Tremblay and Nee should be aware that Operation Clean Government files lawsuits in court and complaints at the ethics commission only after careful research. As an all-volunteer organization, striving for accountability in government, we frequently receive support from individuals in high state positions who appreciate the efforts of our organization; they just can't say it publicly for fear of retribution. Beverly M. Clay is vice chairwoman of Operation Clean Government.
See the page on Justice Rodgers.
See complaint against North Providence Municipal Court Judge Joseph A. Montalbano.
The courts and the legislature, in their continued "the people be damned" attitude, have ignored 20,000 signatures and killed a ballot advisory question. The Rhode Island Supreme Court managed to add its own insult to the injuries inflicted by the Assembly when it took away the Governor's ability to put non-binding questions on the ballot. The Assembly had earlier refused to even discuss a petition signed by 20,000 citizens asking that a Voter Initiative question be placed on this year's ballot. Poll results showed that 91 percent of the voters wanted the voter initiative question on the ballot. In effect, the Legislative and the Judicial branches of Rhode Island's government have declared that the opinions and actions of Rhode Island citizens are worthless and have no role in state government.