PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Erin Lynch Prata announced Tuesday she will not seek re-election and is instead requesting clearance from the R.I. Ethics Commission to apply for the coming vacancy on the R.I. Supreme Court.
“As a sitting senator, I thought it important to request an opinion from the commission to provide legal clarity relative to the concept of the revolving door to those who will consider my application,” Lynch Prata, D-Warwick, said in a statement. “I believe my application is clearly within the parameters of the law, as any individual may apply at any time for an open constitutional office.”
The state’s highest court will soon have its first vacancy in a decade with the June 30 retirement of Justice Gilbert Indeglia, who announced plans to step down back in January. Those who want to succeed him must submit their names to the Judicial Nominating Commission for review. The governor’s eventual pick must win approval from both the House and the Senate.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio quickly weighed in with a statement supporting Lynch Prata’s bid for the judgeship.
“I appreciate how fortunate I have been to have her as a member of the Senate’s leadership team, and I know she would make a similarly invaluable contribution on the bench,” he said. “Should she win the recommendation of the Judicial Nominating Commission and the governor, our state would be fortunate to have a jurist of such exceptional ability and character.”
John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, said it’s still unclear whether the state’s revolving-door rule against General Assembly members taking a state job within a year of leaving office excludes the Supreme Court because it is a constitutional office.
“Rhode Island has a strict revolving door statute that prohibits members of the General Assembly from seeking state employment while in office and for up to one year after leaving office,” Marion said, adding, “We urge the Ethics Commission to examine the question closely because this will set an important precedent.”
Lynch Prata, a 44-year-old attorney, was first elected in 2008. Her decision will open up her seat in Warwick’s Senate District 31, as well as her highly coveted position leading the Judiciary Committee, one of the Senate’s most important panels.
“I have been honored and so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve the people of Warwick and the state of Rhode Island and to work with such a committed group of elected colleagues and staff,” she said.
At least two candidates are already running for the Senate District 31 seat, Democrat Kendra Anderson and Republican Sal Caiozzo.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook