In a move that will be interpreted as a kiss to the leadership of the state Senate, Governor Lincoln Chafee on Friday unveiled his nomination of former Senate president Joseph Montalbano as a Superior Court judge. Chafee is also nominating Patricia Asquith as associate justice of the Family Court.
“In my ongoing conversations with leaders in the Rhode Island judiciary and legal community, these vacant posts in the Rhode Island Superior Court and Rhode Island Family Court have been identified as among those with the greatest need to be filled,” Governor Chafee said. “Both Magistrate Montalbano and Magistrate Asquith have extensive legal and judicial experience in the State of Rhode Island. They will make fine judges, and will aid our efforts to strike a balance through which the judiciary operates with efficiency and effectiveness for the people of our state.”
Montalbano, defeated for his longtime North Providence state Senate seat by independent Edward O'Neill in 2008, has served since 2011 as a District Court clerk-magistrate. If confirmed, he will fill the post of former Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan. Asquith has been a Family Court magistrate since 2002.
Chafee's statement makes no mention of how his nominations come within weeks after the state Senate approved same-sex marriage legislation. Yet his nominees, if confirmed, will allow the Senate to decide the fate of two vacant magistrate positions, as Common Cause of Rhode Island notes.
In an interview, Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger denied any connection between the same-sex marriage vote and the nominations. "The governor would only nominate people who are highly qualified," she says. "That's what this is about."
Last year, when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm House legal counsel John Flynn and former state Senator Charles Levesque as magistrates, Judiciary Chairman Michael McCaffrey praised the tradition of former lawmakers becoming magistrates.
This post has been updated.