Frank J. Williams, chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, who wields enormous power and has a lifetime appointment, maintains that sufficient measures are in place to hold him accountable. He made the statement during a taping this morning of WPRI/WNAC-TV's Newsmakers.
I noted that electing judges, as is the case in some other states, seems like a flawed process, but that two of the most powerful men in state government -- House Speaker William J. Murphy and Senate President Joseph Montalbano -- face election in their districts every two years. So is there a sufficient counterpoint to his authority, I wondered.
Williams responded by agreeing that electing judges is a bad concept, since it injects fundraising into the process. He said the current setup, such as the opportunity for complaints to be examined by the Rhode Island Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline, is adequate and that he is held accountable.
Of course, it was adverse publicity that led Williams a few years ago to scrap his personal Web site, which had promoted his availability for speaking engagements and listed a court employee as his point of contact.
Asked about the controversial and costly bird sounds at the Kent County Courthouse, the chief justice said he would have preferred to seen the money spent on technology or security. In calling the courts a small part of the state budget, he defended plans for an eventual $71 million Blackstone Valley courthouse and the opposition of judges to pension cuts.
Williams said he would like to see more court interpreters, rather than fewer. While newcomers to the US should learn English, democracy is diminished, he said, when the access to the courts of recent immigrants is hindered by a lack of interpreters.