Top RI Dept. of Education lawyer not licensed in RI; will leave job

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Department of Education’s chief legal counsel is leaving her job, though officials insist it is unrelated to the revelation that she is not licensed to practice law in Rhode Island.

The individual, Jessica Roche, “is a member of the Massachusetts and New Hampshire Bar Associations and came to us from D.C. public schools, where she has extensive knowledge of and experience with federal education policy,” said Meg Geoghegan, a spokeswoman for RIDE.

“Jessica has not represented us in court, but has served in a supervisory role, working with our staff attorneys – who are members of the Rhode Island Bar – and attorneys on retainer who have handled disputes on behalf of the agency,” she said.

Experts say Rhode Island state law prohibits individuals from doing any work that involves providing legal advice if they are not licensed locally. However, the state’s rules of professional conduct say a lawyer admitted elsewhere who is not disbarred or suspended “may provide legal services” in Rhode Island under limited circumstances.

“It was her intention to pass the bar locally in July, one of two times a year when the bar is offered, but her family recently made the decision to move out of state, so she will be leaving RIDE prior to that time,” Geoghegan said.

Roche’s status was first revealed by The Providence Journal. The disclosure comes the same week another state agency, the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, has been under fire for having multiple lawyers on staff who had been removed from the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s master list of attorneys.

On Tuesday evening, R.I. Department of Administration Director Michael DiBiase sent an email to all state workers warning “that it is the responsibility of the individual employee to maintain … required licenses or certifications in good standing during the term of employment.” He said they could face consequences, including termination, for failing to do so.

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