Gregory Hazian, the attorney who state officials said was responsible for a potentially costly error at the Rhode Island Office of Health and Human Services stepped down Monday. Hazian left after a career with the state that spanned decades, and saw him rise from menial jobs to a position as senior legal counsel.
Long before he was a lawyer, Hazian worked as a cook and then as a janitor for the Office of Health and Human Services. The agency reported that his employment began in the late 1970s.
He went back to school to earn a law degree, then worked on and off for the state doing legal work, including work in 2007 for the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, the hiring and spending arm of the legislature.
In 2010, Hazian was named senior legal counsel at the Department of Health and Human Services, the same agency where he once cooked and cleaned. The department said he earned an annual salary of $86,000 by time he submitted his resignation this week.
His superiors blamed him for missing the deadline to file an appeal in a case that could cost the state $24 million. The lawsuit involves retroactive Medicaid payments to nursing homes.
Following the revelation of the missed deadline, Governor Gina Raimondo was unsparing in her criticism of Hazian, saying she never knew him personally, but at the time of his resignation questions about his work remained.
“It’s not clear if this was the case of one employee being dishonest, being incompetent,” said Raimondo. “We’re going to prosecute him to the fullest extent. And then we’ve put his supervisor out on leave while we look into that and do a full investigation.”
Raimondo said she had referred Hazian to the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office for a potential criminal investigation.
In Jaunary, Hazian was removed from the Supreme Court’s roll of attorneys for failing to complete required continuing legal education. The problem had continued for 12 consecutive years, according to court documents. Hazian also failed to attend a hearing to defend himself against the removal. State officials said he never informed his supervisors about the situation. Hazian was also temporarily suspended from practicing law in 1992.
According to a spokeswoman for the state attorney general, being removed from the Supreme Court’s roll is similar to being disbarred. In Rhode Island, unauthorized practice of law is a misdemeanor.