Hearing begins for judge accused of harassment, misconduct

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Allegations of sexual harassment, abusive treatment and failure to maintain professional dignity launched a disciplinary investigation against a Rhode Island District Court judge. The numerous allegations are outlined in a 20-page court document.

On Monday, opening statements began for a hearing process in front of the Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline over the investigation into Judge Rafael Ovalles.

The allegations include that Ovalles made sexual remarks to women, demeaned attorneys, and at times, had his pants unbuttoned or completely off in chambers.

The defense team for Ovalles said Monday the allegations were fabricated by clerks and attorneys who disapproved of how Ovalles ran his courtroom.

But Marc DeSisto, an attorney for the commission, said Monday witnesses will corrobarate the claims mapped out in a formal complaint against Ovalles.

He said one court worker was standing in line in front of Ovalles when he allegedly made an inappropriate remark to her.

“She said to the judge, ‘Did I cut in front of you? I’m sorry,'” said DeSisto. “She’ll tell you Judge Ovalles said, ‘That’s OK, I’m enjoying the view from back here.'”

According to DeSisto, testimony exists to prove a woman witnessed Ovalles with his pants unbuttoned and unzippered while in judge’s chambers. Others had accused Ovalles of having his pants completely off.

Mark Berthiaume, Ovalles’s attorney, said the incident never happened, and no witnesses will testify to ever seeing the judge in a state of undress.

“Sixty-three witnesses had been identified to us, 63, and not one, not one will testify as to having seen him without his pants on,” said former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, Ovalles’ nephew and a member of his defense team.

Former House Speaker William Murphy is also on Ovalles’ defense team.

Ovalles was appointed to the bench in 2005 by Governor Don Carcieri. The allegations against him span multiple years.

According to court documents, Ovalles is also accused of mishandling the Mental Health calendar, which deals with patients with developmental issues or those who have been involuntarily committed. Ovalles is also accused of belittling those in his courtroom. Ovalles allegedly asked a visibly pregnant woman if she had eaten too much over the holidays and told a man with a severe case of acne to spend more time and money on his appearance.

Ovalles has been relieved from his duties with pay since December 2015 as the investigation proceeds. His future as a judge will be determined by this hearing process.

The hearing process is expected to take multiple weeks.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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