After a World Wide Search
… 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  “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.