Reported Misconduct Committed By Judge George Healy In Rhode Island

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Attorney Stephen Dennis Gets Harassed For Doing His Job

In an unusual climax to a long, bitter dispute within a state court, a judge has sanctioned a lawyer and fined him $500 for filing a "frivolous" motion -- a request that the judge remove himself from a case because of prejudice against the lawyer. It was the same lawyer, Stephen J. Dennis, who has complained that the Workers' Compensation Court's case assignment system is slanted to favor employers over injured workers.

A years-long dispute within the court over that and related issues has seen one judge attack another in writing as "malevolent" and accuse him of "silly clandestine activity." It has also led to two internal investigations of how cases were assigned, according to court records. Neither found anything improper. The eye of the storm is Dennis, who was sanctioned for the first time in his career by Judge George E. Healy Jr. last month. Healy says it was also the first time he fined anybody; he and others familiar with the court say they can recall only a handful of instances when someone was sanctioned. The pace, however, is picking up: Dennis has been threatened with more sanctions in three other pending cases.

The workers' Compensation Court, with 10 judges, is in the J. Joseph Garrahy Judicial Complex, at One Dorrance Place. It hears cases of workers who have been injured on the job -- from scars to stress to blindness to amputation -- and who seek compensation from their employers' insurers. Headed by Chief Judge Robert F. Arrigan, the court's judges decide whether, and how, the workers should be compensated.

Some lawyers usually represent employers; some, injured workers. Dennis represents injured workers -- vigorously, thoughtfully and with exceptional care for their best interests, according to some grateful clients. "He took my case when nobody was interested," said Jeanne Rossi, a former state Training School employee whose spinal disks were damaged when she tried to block an escape in 1992. "If it wasn't for Steve, I'd be out there with injuries and no money." She said that along with representing her in court, Dennis went out of his way to get her connected to state and private agencies that could help her.

But while Dennis is a persistent defender of his clients' rights, he is also a persistent critic of the court. Chief Judge Arrigan, on the other hand, calls Dennis "a loose cannon" who "enjoys tilting at windmills" and dismisses Dennis's charges as "fiction." Judge Healy says he has nothing personal against Dennis. He said in an interview Wednesday that Dennis is "absolutely" competent. On the other hand, a transcript of a hearing June 20, the day after he ordered Dennis fined, shows Healy saying that Dennis's behavior "verged on incompetence" and that Dennis "skated very, very close to unethical conduct." Healy also told Dennis that "maybe you should consider another occupation," and he suggested that "maybe it is time to notify your malpractice carrier," referring to the insurance company that provides Dennis's legal malpractice insurance.

At the June 20 hearing, Dennis was representing a skilled carpenter whose two fingers had been cut off by a table saw at work. The fingers were surgically re-attached, but the worker said they remained useless and painful. The employer had offered another job, but the carpenter said he couldn't do it because of his injury. In the transcript, Healy said that he was angry because Dennis didn't appear at a previous hearing to cross-examine a witness, which meant the witness came to court for nothing. Dennis said he missed the hearing because he was before another judge and couldn't leave. Dennis says scheduling conflicts aren't unusual, and that judges and lawyers normally adjust to them without heated denunciations, let alone fines. Witnesses, meanwhile, are frequently inconvenienced at court. Dennis still wanted to question the witness, but Healy threatened to punish Dennis again if he tried to compel the witness's testimony and Healy wasn't satisfied with the reason. Healy said he can't discuss that episode because that case is still pending.

The fine arose in another case. At a hearing June 16, the transcript shows, Dennis objected to Healy's having served as an editor of an American Medical Association publication, the "Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment," a standard reference that would be used in the case. Because Healy was involved in preparing the "Guides," Dennis said Healy should recuse himself from the case to avoid "the appearance of impropriety." Healy refused, saying his involvement with the "Guides" just made him more knowledgeable about the subject and wouldn't "taint" his judgment. Healy also gave Dennis "a warning," sending him a copy of a federal court ruling on when lawyers filing improper motions to recuse could be punished.

At the next session on that case, on June 19, Dennis offered a new reason that Healy should drop the case: a note from the judge. Healy had sent Dennis the decision together with a copy of an article Healy and fellow Judge Janette A. Bertness had written about the AMA "Guides." On the cover was a note saying, "To Stephen Dennis Esq. Best of luck and good health! Keep on Truckin'." It was signed by Judge Healy. Dennis said he thought that meant Healy "was mocking me," and that Healy was "showing prejudice" against him. It was, Dennis said, another reason Healy should recuse himself. Healy said he wasn't prejudiced against Dennis, and that he sent the article to him "as a personal favor." But he also said that didn't mean Dennis had "carte blanche to raise whatever frivolous motions you raise in this courtroom."

Citing the "Fraud and Abuse" section of workers' compensation law, Healy ordered Dennis to pay the $500 to the opposing lawyer, Berndt Anderson, who was representing Antaya Technologies, a Cranston company supplying equipment and supplies to the automotive glass industry. Healy said that Dennis was neither rude nor disrespectful to him during the hearing, and said he was baffled at Dennis's reaction to the "Keep on truckin' " remark. "Steve thought I was mocking him. To the life of me, I don't see why." Healy also said in an interview that his relationship with Dennis is unique. He suggested he wishes it were better, saying, "I hope I don't have this kind of a relationship with Steve." Meanwhile, however, Dennis says he has been threatened with more sanctions in three other cases by Judge Arrigan.

Dennis SAYS the criticism and fines are part of a years-long pattern of retaliation to his fighting for a better deal for injured workers. Arrigan and Healy vigorously deny they're one-sided, and are equally vigorous in denying they're picking on Dennis. Dennis said Arrigan and Healy "went on the warpath" most recently after Dennis was quoted in The Journal in June criticizing legislation intended to punish employers who don't carry compensation insurance. Dennis said the bill had a loophole in it, benefiting employers, so big that "you could drive a Mack truck through it." The bill was tightened up to close the loophole. But Dennis says his troubles with the judges go back much farther, "ever since I challenged the [case] assignment process."

During a hearing before Judge John Rotondi on Dec. 7, 2001, Dennis charged that "scarring petitions," seeking compensation awards for disfigurement suffered on the job, were unfairly directed to "conservative" judges, including Arrigan, rather than distributed randomly. Because of the subjective nature of attaching a dollar value to an injury such as a facial burn, scarring cases offer judges more discretion than other cases. "Benefits to my clients have dramatically decreased," Dennis said at the time. He called the system "totally and completely unfair" and said, "there is no ability to obtain what I consider a fair benefit" in such cases. But by then, the case-assignment issue was already troubling the court. Healy said that the court's judges have certainly had disagreements, but that overall, the court is "as collegial, if not more collegial, than the other courts."

Two summers ago, however, Judge Rotondi was already curious about case assignments. In an angry Aug. 23, 2001, note to Rotondi, Healy said he had discovered that the other judge was looking into his assignments. "While I have no doubt your intentions are malevolent," Healy wrote in a memo, he was proud of his work and "have no problem sharing the records with you." But he objected to "the absurd amount of time being wasted by you [Rotondi] and your clerk in this silly clandestine activity." "Maybe I was a little prickly about it," Healy said Wednesday. Rotondi replied that he was inquiring because questions had been raised about it -- he didn't say by whom -- and because he chaired the court's Rules Committee. "Even the appearance of impropriety," Rotondi said, required attention. In response, Arrigan asked a judge new to the court, George T. Salem Jr., to look into case assignments. Salem interviewed court staff and studied which lawyers' cases were assigned to which judges. He reported in September 2001 that he found no irregularities. The second investigation also came at Arrigan's request, in a letter to George Nee, the labor leader and chairman of the state Workers' Compensation Advisory Council, the following April, of 2002. Arrigan said "some people, both inside and outside the court" were "hell-bent to destroy all the good work that has been done in the past 10 years," since reform legislation was enacted. To Nee, Arrigan mentioned "attacks" by Judge Rotondi, "manipulation" of the issue by Dennis, and questions by a Journal reporter whom Arrigan suggested was being "manipulated," too. He asked Nee to commission an inquiry into the case-assignment process because of accusations of unfairness, which he denied. Nee named a three-member subcommittee, which reported May 31, 2002. It said that disfigurement cases were assigned to the chief judge, as Dennis had said, although after Arrigan had about 35 cases, the rest were distributed to other judges. The committee reported that it found "no evidence of abnormalities." Dennis's battle over court assignments, meanwhile, has continued. After trying unsuccessfully to challenge the assignment system in Workers' Compensation Court, Dennis took the issue to Superior Court, where Atty. Gen. Patrick C. Lynch is defending Arrigan.

UPDATE

Superior Court Judge Susan E. McGuirl yesterday dismissed the case in which lawyer Steven J. Dennis is challenging the way the Workers' Compensation Court assigns cases.
Dennis, who specializes in representing injured workers trying to get compensation from their employers' insurance companies, says the case assignment system has been slanted to favor employers over injured workers. He said he will appeal McGuirl's decision to the state Supreme Court.
The case is part of a long-running battle between Dennis and some Workers' Compensation Court Judges, including Chief Judge Robert F. Arrigan. Dennis has charged that cases seeking compensation for disfiguring injuries, such as scars, have been unfairly directed to "conservative" judges, including Arrigan, rather than distributed randomly. The result, he said, is that disfigured workers end up with lower compensation awards than they should. The nature of disfigurement cases gives judges more discretion in awarding financial compensation to injured workers. Arrigan says that the assignment system works fairly, and that Dennis's accusations are "fiction."

The Superior Court hearing yesterday dealt with a motion to dismiss Dennis's case brought by Richard Wooley, an assistant attorney general representing the Workers' Compensation Court. The hearing focused on a much narrower point than the fairness of the Workers' Compensation Court: whether Chief Judge Arrigan can control the assignment of cases to judges, despite the existence of a court rule saying that job belongs to Court Administrator Dennis Revens.

Caught.net note: One of the tools of the courts in avoiding the REAL issue is to change the issue considered.

Dennis's lawyer, Carolyn A. Mannis, argued unsuccessfully that the rule clearly gives the responsibility for assigning cases to the court administrator rather than the chief judge. Revens has said he has nothing to do with case assignments. Mannis said the assignment process was therefore "improper." Wooley conceded that the rule gives the job to the administrator, but he argued that the statutory authority of chief judges to administer their courts supercedes the court rule. McGuirl agreed with Wooley, concluding that the court rule "does not trump the provisions of the statute."

Caught.net note: Court rules are used to circumvent statutory law ALL THE TIME when it suits the court's case. These rules regarding assignment were put into place to prevent the very problem Dennis was complaining about. This is the classic "flip-flop" the court does to avoid admitting wrong doing. In some other case, when it suits the courts, they will rule that the assignment rule was put there to "more clearly define the statutory intent and control case assignment and abuses."

Mannis, meanwhile, objected that because she wasn't allowed to question court workers, there is really no way to tell for sure who is assigning the cases.

Caught note: This is also classic court nonsense. When they don't want to make a ruling unfavorable to the status quo they reduce, manipulate or eliminate the evidence.

Arrigan says assignments are distributed even-handedly by court clerks, without intervention by the chief judge.

Caught.net note: Compare Arrigans statement to the statement above by court administrator Revens, "Revens has said he has nothing to do with case assignments." This shows everyone how BOLD FACE LIES go unchecked in our courts.

McGuirl described it as "a case of first impression," or a case where she was breaking new legal ground in interpreting the statutes.

FURTHER UPDATE

Lawyer Steven J. Dennis' attempt to avoid a $500 fine for allegedly filing a frivolous motion went before an appeals panel at the state Workers' Compensation Court. Lauren E. Jones, the lawyer representing Dennis in the unusual case, argued last week that Judge George E. Healey was both unreasonable and legally in error in fining Dennis last June. The motion (or motions__there's a dispute about that too) in question was a request by Dennis that Judge Healey remove himself from a case.

Dennis accused healey of showing prejudice by harshly criticizing him in court and mocking him and belittling him, in part in documents and a note that he sent to Dennis during the case. Dennis said the criticism and fines are part of a years-long pattern of retaliation to his fighting for a better deal in court for injured workers. Healey said at the time that he meant no such thing. Jones also said that the punishment goes far beyond the money.

It's not about the $500, we all understand that, he said. It also means notification of the system that disciplines lawyers, and of the company that carries Dennis' malpractice insurance, he said. He said healey should have given him formal notice of the fine and a chance to argue his case. Lawyers are rarely fined, and the fine against Dennis was a climax of sorts to the years-long dispute within the court. Dennis repeatedly criticized the court's operation as unfair to the workers whom he regularly represents against employers' insurance companies. In particular, he accused former Chief Judge Robert F. Arrigan of arranging case assignments to the disadvantage of injure workers. Arrigan who has since retired, denied it. The dispute included some judges too. In 2001, Workers' Compensation Court Judge John Rotondi became curious about the case-assignment process, he said later and looked into it. That protpted an angry memo from healy after he found out about Rotondi's inquiry.

While I have no doubt your intentions are malevolent, healy wrote, he was proud of his work and has "no problem sharing the records"but he objected to the "absurd waste of time being wasted by you {Rontondi] and your clerk in this silly clandestine activity." The case before healey at the time he fined Dennis involved and employee of Antaya Technologies, a Cranston company supplying equipment and supplies to the automotive glass industry. healey ordered Dennis to pay the $500 to the opposing lawyer Bernst Anderson who was representing Ante. The injured worker has received an award for his hand injury, the lawyers said. Last week, Anderson argued in favor of the sanction against Dennis saying that Healey warned Dennis that he was "real close to the edge" of trouble, telling Dennis that "I'm putting you on warning"

When Dennis renewed his request that healey remove himself from the case, Anderson said, the judge was justified in punishing the lawyer. "A trial Judge has to have the right to run his courtroom," Anderson told the appeals panel. Among the points in dispute was the meaning of a note that healey sent to Dennis during the dispute handwritten on the front of a copy of a legal article healey had written along with another judge. The note said, "To Stephen Dennis Esq.,Best of luck and good health! Keep on Truckin"." Anderson said that it was benign, and probably meant , 'keep on doing whatever you are doing. Dennis, however read it as a criticism from Healy, who didn't like it when Dennis criticized legislation that was supposed to improve a workers'compensation law. Dennis said the bill contained a loophole benefiting employers that was so big that "you could drive a Mack truck through it"

After that, the bill was amended to close the loophole. Dennis thinks healey's "keep on trucking " note referred to the Dennis' "Loophole" remark. The Workers' Compensation Court settles disputes between injured workers and their employer about compensation for the on-the-job-injuries. When a party appeals the trial judge's decision, the appeal goes before an appeals panel of t three other judges of the court, not including the judge who heard the case, The appeal was heard last Wednesday by Judges Debra L. Olsson, Edward P. SowaJr., Dianne M. Conner. Lawyers estimated that it could be months before they make a decision.


FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Many times the reason or purpose for events in our life initially escapes us,
but I am certain we can find reason and/or purpose in everything that happens!


It takes a short time to learn to exercise power, but a lifetime to learn how to avoid abusing it.


We are no longer a country of laws, we are a country where laws are "creatively interpreted."



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