Monday, February 23, 2009

High Court Sets Hearing Date on Irons' Ethics Case

By: Maria Armental


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- The Rhode Island Supreme Court has set a date of May 13 for hearing arguments in the dismissed ethics case of a former state Senate president.

William V. Irons (right) was accused by Operation Clean Government, a government watchdog group, of a conflict of interest by working to defeat bills affecting pharmacies while earning commissions as a broker for a CVS employee health insurance policy.

But Superior Court Judge Francis Darigan threw out the ethics complaint last fall, saying the state Constitution protected lawmakers from being prosecuted for their votes.

The Ethics Commission appealed Darigan's decision to the Supreme Court.

Katherine D'Arezzo, a commission prosecutor, said the court will hear the case on May 13. The commission plans to file court papers next month.

Irons, an insurance salesman from East Providence, abruptly resigned Dec. 31, 2003, after two decades in the Senate. He had opposed pharmacy-choice legislation that pharmacy giant CVS, a company to which Irons had sold insurance, also opposed.

The Journal later disclosed that Irons, while chairman of the Senate committee that handled health care, had collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions since 1997 on a Blue Cross policy covering CVS workers in Rhode Island.

The Ethics Commission found probable cause to believe that Irons broke the code of ethics by using his public office to financially benefit his business associate, CVS. The next step would ordinarily have been a trial-like hearing before the commission. Irons, however, went to court in a successful attempt to block the commission prosecution.

-- With staff reports

An earlier version of this posting incorrectly identified the group that filed the ethics complaint against William V. Irons.

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