This Is How the State Works (Its Way into a Hole)
It’s important to keep in mind that this report consists mainly of allegations, some of them (at least) made by people with compromising motivation. That said, the insight into the practices of our state are well worth familiarization:
[Probate Judge Robert E.] Rainville says he has done nothing wrong — and that the complaints against him are “100 percent politically motivated.” He claims that Council Vice President Angelo A. Padula Jr. is trying to oust him because he is a lifelong friend of Stephen Alves, the former state senator from West Warwick who lost a reelection bid in November. …
In Rhode Island, probate judges are political appointees. They do not operate under any uniform rules but wield great power. They can inalterably change an elderly person’s life by appointing a stranger to take control over every facet of their affairs — from how their money is spent, to where they live and with whom they associate.
Some probate judges are experts in probate law. But others have very little expertise in these matters. Some routinely tape-record proceedings so that a complete record of what is said is made; others do not. Some routinely seal parts of court files while similar records in other cities and towns remain open to public inspection. At least one probate judge in the state routinely has lawyers who appear before him make their presentations to him privately at the bench so the spectators in the courtroom cannot hear what he or the lawyers say. The proceedings usually aren’t taped, unless a lawyer brings a stenographer to make a record — at the client’s expense.
As part of their duties, probate judges decide what fees to award guardians and lawyers who represent estates. The amounts charged vary greatly based on the complexity of the case, the amount of time spent by the attorney and how much the lawyer charges per hour, which varies based on the attorney. The Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct put no limit on what a lawyer may charge, only that the fee be “reasonable.”
At first reading, so to speak, it’s difficult to understand how a part-time legislature and the small-scale operations of our tiny state engender such endemic corruption as we all know to exist, but when one digs into matters, it begins to appear that the principle of mutual back scratching permeates the entire structure of government. It’s as if corruption is laundered so thoroughly that it transcends the law.
That’s why no one should be surprised if Rhode Island scores more highly in corruption as a matter of opinion survey than of prosecutions.