Providence mulling major shakeup of municipal court

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Two sitting state representatives are being considered for judgeships in Providence as the City Council mulls a shakeup of the city’s municipal court, WPRI.com has learned.

State Reps. John Lombardi and Daniel McKiernan, two Providence Democrats, are among the five candidates who have expressed interest in joining the three-member court, according to City Council President Luis Aponte. The other three applicants are the sitting judges: Chief Judge Frank Caprio Sr. and Associate Judges Anthony Giannini and Catherine Graziano.

“I’m pleased that we have qualified people willing to step and service,” Aponte told WPRI.com. Aponte said all of the applicants will be referred to the Finance Committee following Thursday’s council meeting. The group could appear in front of the committee as soon as next week and judges could be approved later this month, Aponte said.

Municipal court judges are responsible for collecting and administering fines and fees related to parking and traffic tickets as well as environmental violations. Hearings are held Monday through Friday at the Providence Public Safety Complex on Washington Street.

Judges are among the few city employees selected and approved to serve by the City Council; each serves a four-year term. Each judge typically works for one week and then has two weeks off. A fourth judge, Lisa Bortolotti, works in a volunteer capacity.

But the City Council hasn’t appointed a new paid judge since 1998, when Graziano was named to the bench. She replaced William Grande, who died while still serving on the municipal court. Grande was 90 and believed to be the oldest sitting judge in the United States at the time, according to a Providence Journal article then.

Caprio, a respected lawyer, former city councilman and ex-chairman of the Board of Governors for Higher Education, has served on the bench since 1985. His court hearings are filmed for “Caught in Providence,” a reality television show. As chief judge, Caprio earned a salary of $52,767 in 2014, according to city payroll records.

As associate judges, Graziano and Giannini each earned $33,436 in 2014. All three judges receive health insurance and pension credits from the city.

Reached Monday, Caprio told WPRI.com he would like to be reappointed to the court. Graziano and Giannini did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Although members of the City Council have remained silent on whom they’ll appoint to the court, Majority Leader Kevin Jackson told WPRI.com he believes the council is looking to make changes. One key piece of criteria, Jackson said, is that many council members believe the judges should live in the city full-time.

Voting records list Caprio, Giannini, Lombardi and McKiernan as Providence residents. Graziano lives in Charlestown.

“It’s really about the opportunity to make a change or two,” Jackson said. “Personally, I would prefer, absolutely prefer, that they live in city.”

If appointed, Lombardi and McKiernan would be allowed to continue serving in their elected positions.

A former president of the City Council who was elected to the House in 2012, Lombardi is a longtime ally of Aponte. He and his brother, state Sen. Frank Lombardi, run a law office on Broadway. Lombardi told WPRI.com he has talked with a few council members about joining the court.

“It certainly would be a nice capstone for me,” Lombardi said.

McKiernan, who works out of a law office on Smith Street and was elected to the House last year, told WPRI.com he’s been interested in joining the court for several years, but indicated he didn’t know whether he was a favorite to receive the appointment.

“If there are going to be changes, I wanted to throw my name in the hat,” he said.Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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