PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - A lawyer who has long been a thorn in the side of the Rhode Island judiciary has filed a federal lawsuit against the state's chief justice and others, claiming an attempt to "chill" his First Amendment rights.
Keven A. McKenna, the flame-throwing attorney who made an unsuccessful bid for attorney general in 2010, filed the suit earlier this month after he said the Supreme Court overstepped its authority by launching an investigation into his law practice.
The lawsuit names Chief Justice Paul Suttell and five other defendants. The 24-page complaint demands an end to the investigation and declares the court's actions unconstitutional. McKenna alleges the Supreme Court is essentially on a witch hunt by assigning attorney Marc DeSisto – one of the defendants in the suit – to dig into his law practice.
"Marc DeSisto was putatively appointed by Defendant Paul Suttell, without Rhode Island constitutional authority," McKenna wrote in the complaint. "On the pretext of inquiring about possible bookkeeping errors in Plaintiff's business accounts for the last seven years in order to bring a Complaint designed to place the Plaintiff in false light as retaliation for the Plaintiff's advocacy of litigation to strip the Rhode Island Supreme Court of its unconstitutional Article IX powers as required by November 2004 Separation of Powers Amendments."
Since 2004, McKenna has been an outspoken critic of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and especially its former chief justice, Frank Williams, claiming that the court was "usurping" the Separation of Powers amendment passed by voters in 2004.
"The Rhode Island judiciary still manages a $90 million-plus budget, […] all in flagrant disregard of the will of the voters who approved the 2004 amendment," McKenna wrote in a letter to the editor in The Providence Journal this year.
The complaint was filed after a fiery hearing in January where five justices battered McKenna with questions about his troubled law practice. The high court was concerned McKenna was operating under two different names, which is prohibited by law. But McKenna argued he was attempting to switch his law practice into a limited liability corporation, according to reports by The Journal.
His law practice ran into problems in 2009 when a former employee, Sumner Stone, claimed McKenna assaulted him. McKenna was charged but never prosecuted. He is still in a legal fight with the Worker's Compensation Court trying to fight a damages claim made by Stone.
Special Assistant Attorney General Michael Field – who runs the open records division of the attorney general's office – is representing the defendants in the case.
The lawsuit was assigned to U.S. District Court for Rhode Island Chief Judge Mary Lisi. But in a filing made Monday, McKenna asked the courts to assign a different judge because Lisi was an assistant disciplinary counsel for the Rhode Island Supreme Court from 1988 to 1990.
As Target 12 first reported, McKenna ran into problems during his campaign for attorney general when a federal bankruptcy judge blasted him for his "careless and sloppy" work and being legally "reckless."
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