Raimondo asks AG to investigate attorney blamed for botched lawsuit

News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said Monday she has asked the attorney general to investigate a state lawyer who failed to appeal a costly court decision, speaking publicly for the first time about an embarrassing mistake that has engulfed her administration in criticism.

“I want this fully investigated,” she said. “We’re not going to stop until we get to the bottom of it.”

“If it’s pure incompetence he deserved to lose his job, but there could be more here,” she said.

Raimondo fielded questions from reporters during a hastily-called news conference at the State House, one day after it emerged that the lawyer, Gregory Hazian, missed a deadline to appeal a court decision that could cost taxpayers $24 million. Hazian resigned Monday and has declined to comment.

Raimondo expressed frustration with Hazian – whom she described as “a junior lawyer,” though he was serving as his agency’s senior legal counsel – not only over the botched appeal but also his apparent failure to inform his bosses he was removed from the state’s master list of lawyers earlier this year. Court documents show he failed to complete required continuing education for 12 straight years.

“People lie. It’s inexcusable. And they have to be held accountable,” Raimondo said. “He did everything wrong and that’s inexcusable, and I’m angry,” she added.

Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, confirmed Raimondo’s request.

“While we have not yet received anything formal, the governor’s office did let us know they intend to forward the matter to our office, specifically the matter of the unauthorized practice of law for the time Hazian was serving as legal counsel for [the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services] while being removed from the list,” Kempe said.

The unauthorized practice of law carries a maximum penalty of one year and up to $500 in fines, she said.

The court case involves a lawsuit brought by 59 state nursing homes challenging a rate cut by EOHHS. A judge ruled against the state in April, but officials say Hazian was the only employee tracking the litigation and never informed his superiors about the status of the case. Other state lawyers are now pleading with the judge for more time.

Raimondo said she learned about the legal mess in the middle of last week when Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Beane called to inform her about the problem. She said she still has confidence in Beane, one of her most trusted aides, despite calls for his resignation from some of her opponents.

Raimondo has few public events on her schedule this week and is scheduled to travel to New York City on Thursday for a campaign fundraiser. She indicated she does not expect to change her travel plans.

Hazian earned about $86,000 a year before his resignation, according to the state’s transparency portal. His superior, Deborah George, has also been placed on paid administrative leave. George earns about $138,000 a year.

Hazian will not be eligible for a state pension until he turns 67 in 2027, according to an estimate by the general treasurer’s office. He would be eligible for about $9,404 annually.

Steph Machado and Susan Campbell contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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