Exit Frank Williams


I'll cedit the departing chief justice for mostly remaining accessible through his tenure. Let's roll a few clips.

Williams sat down with me for a Q+A when he succeeded Joseph Weisberger, and I noted a bit of the background:

Although judges are meant to be models of probity and rectitude, the record in Rhode Island sometimes reads more like the plot for a television melodrama. Joseph A. Bevilacqua and Thomas Fay, two former chief justices of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, for example, resigned amid respective impeachment proceedings in 1986 and 1993, and a full accounting has yet to be offered for a more recent scandal involving the state traffic court. ...

Q: What do you tell people who wonder why Rhode Island's courts have been tarnished, for example, by the disarray at the traffic court and the problems that led to the consecutive resignation of two of your predecessors as chief justice?

A: You say that there have been problems and efforts were made to correct the problems. Taking your last statement first, which is absolutely correct, and sad, and tragic, they changed the process in which judges are selected now, because of that. Now you go through this fairly open process, the Judicial Nominating Commission. That's how I got to the Superior Court and also to become the chief, with input from lay people as well as lawyers, the screening that the governor does with his staff, and, of course, the confirmation proceedings in the Senate, and House and Senate if it has to do with a Supreme Court appointment. That's going a long way to remove, as much as you can remove in a democracy, politics. There'll always be a certain degree of politics in a democracy. Democracy cannot succeed without there being politics. When you and I speak one-on-one, it's a form of political intercourse.

 Not long after, Williams figured prominently in the debate over a meltdown at the Rhode Island Ethics Commission:

More than eight months after the height of the controversy, a war of words continues to flourish. Boosters of the Ethics Commission's new administration, including Frank J. Williams, chief justice of the state Supreme Court, blame the situation on Healey, a former federal prosecutor viewed by good government groups as an aggressive ethical watchdog. Common Cause of Rhode Island and editorial writers at the Providence Journal, meanwhile, ascribe responsibility for Healey's dismissal to Williams. They also fault Governor Lincoln Almond and legislative leaders for neutralizing the commission, changing the nine-member panel from an occupationally diverse group to a pliable panel with a concentration of six lawyers, some with political connections.

Williams declined to be interviewed when Steven Stycos wrote in 2002 about how, in a significant change, the RI Supreme Court had eroded the power of public employee unions over the past decade.

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