Critics Renew Criticism Of Magistrate Selection

Aug 23, 2017

A good government group is questioning Rhode Island’s process for picking magistrates. Those are members of the court system who perform some judicial functions, although they don’t preside over trials. Three politically connected individuals were appointed this month.

Magistrates are selected by the top judge for each court, such as Superior Court and Family Court. The number of magistrates in Rhode Island has quadrupled, to about 20, since the mid-90s.

Critics say too many of these appointments go to former state lawmakers and legislative employees.

Common Cause of Rhode Island head John Marion said that growth has come as more openness was included in the judicial selection process.

“The magistrate selection process is not nearly as transparent as the process for picking judges because the interviews do not occur in public, and the public can have no input in the process,” Marion said.

A top legislative leader is defending the growth of magistrates in Rhode Island courts. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said the magistrates have helped to reduce a backlog of cases.

In a statement, Ruggerio said the magistrate-selection process has worked well for the last decade.

Rhode Island reformed its judicial selection process after two consecutive state Supreme Court chief justices resigned amid scandal more than 20 years ago.

The newly appointed magistrates include the legal counsel to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, a legal adviser to Gov. Gina Raimondo, and a former state representative from Pawtucket. Magistrate jobs come with a 10-year term and pay close to $150,000 a year.