Rhode Island's Unconstitutionally Appointed Judges

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Taken, in part, from a March 31, 2015 opinion article at Projo.com - For more than a decade, former Rep. Donna M. Walsh (Charlestown) battled the State House's "I know a guy" system, pushing to require that magistrates go through the same merit-selection process as state judges. Rep. Teresa Tanzi from South Kingstown has continued the fight.

There are now 21 magistrates in the various state courts. Rhode Island only had a couple of magistrates in 1994 when voters responded to a series of judicial scandals by approving a constitutional amendment which requires that state judge candidates be vetted by the Judicial Nominating Commission.

In what can only be considered as yet another, "voters be damned" move, legislators responded to that reform by creating a bunch of magistrate jobs which have somehow been filled with their own ranks with former legislators and former General Assembly staff. This can only be classified as unchecked legislative misconduct.

"Indeed, a group photo of state magistrates might be mistaken for an Assembly alumni reunion. The legislature says these are specialized positions to take on special tasks, but we think it's an end-run around the Judicial Nominating Commission. Magistrates wear robes, they sit on a bench and they're subject to the same ethics rules as judges. Granted, the Judicial Nominating Commission process is far from perfect and hardly immune from politics. But it is transparent and allows for greater public input. That presumably builds public confidence in how those decisions are being made." - John Marion of Common Cause

The legislature's explanation that magistrates "take on special tasks" is, for lack of a better phrase, "an insulting line of bull." The Assembly killed Tanzi's bill by holding it "for further study" - the legislature's way of burying bills. Clearly the legislature has no interest in fixing this end run around the voters and the Rhode Island Constitution.


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

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