Thursday, September 10, 2009

Commission to Choose Candidates for Superior Court Chief

By Katie Mulvaney

Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — After a two-month break, the Judicial Nominating Commission will be back this week to begin selecting possible candidates to be the next presiding justice of Superior Court.

The nine-member commission Tuesday will chose who it will interview to succeed Presiding Justice Joseph F. Rodgers Jr. following his retirement Aug. 28. The deadline to apply is Friday.

The commission also expects next week to begin advertising for applications for the state Supreme Court seat left open by Justice Paul A. Suttell’s elevation to chief justice, said Stephen J. Carlotti, commission chairman.

The commission in June completed a whirlwind round of interviews and public hearings for state bench vacancies, including the chief justice seat. Since the start of the year, the commission forwarded lists of finalists for five judgeships to Governor Carcieri.

Carcieri in May nominated Suttell, a former Republican lawmaker with six years on the high court, as chief justice. The General Assembly unanimously approved the nomination. In July, Suttell was sworn in with great fanfare after winning sweeping approval and wide praise from legislators.

In June, the governor selected Kristin E. Rodgers, a past partner with the Providence firm of Blish & Cavanagh, to fill the seat vacated by Superior Court Judge Vincent A. Ragosta’s retirement in May 2008. Rodgers’ nomination came the same day her father, Presiding Justice Rodgers, announced he would retire. She took her oath the day after Suttell.

Carcieri has yet to make nominations to the legislature for the five other judicial openings, including a District Court seat that’s been vacant since March 2008, the chief judge position on that court, a Superior Court seat and two on the Family Court. That number will rise to six with Rodgers’ retirement and possibly seven, if President Obama names Superior Court Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seat vacated by Senior Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse have recommended her.

By law, the governor “shall” select a nominee within 21 days of receiving the commission’s list of finalists. The governor has said he considers that deadline advisory.

State lawmakers agreed last session to extend to June 2010 a law that allows the governor to select nominees from lists of finalists submitted by the Judicial Nominating Commission over the previous five years.

First passed in 2007, the legislation was backed by Governor Carcieri and opposed by the government watchdog group Common Cause Rhode Island. Before its enactment, the governor could choose nominees only from a list of three to five finalists selected by the Judicial Nominating Commission for a particular judicial vacancy.

Under the law, the governor can choose from any finalist list generated by the commission for various court seats over the previous five years. The law does not pertain to chief judge positions or to the Supreme Court.

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