Ex-Speaker Murphy doesn't recall why Assembly hired lawyer who botched appeal

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Former House Speaker William Murphy said Wednesday he does not recall the exact circumstances that originally led the General Assembly to hire a state lawyer who just resigned after botching the appeal of a multimillion-dollar court case.

Gregory Hazian, who stepped down Monday as a senior legal counsel for the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, initially joined state government's legal ranks in December 2007, when the Joint Committee on Legislative Services - which manages the legislature's budget and is controlled by the speaker - put him on its payroll as a part-time lawyer.

Rhode Island Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell has questioned how Hazian got his General Assembly job, noting he donated to Murphy and his successors as speaker, Gordon Fox and Nicholas Mattiello. Hazian also volunteered for Mattiello's re-election campaign in 2016.

Hazian has repeatedly declined to comment this week. Mattiello acknowledged Wednesday that he's known Hazian for a long time, but said he has "no role or knowledge of anything involved in this situation."

"I know Greg pretty well," Mattiello said in an interview. "He does live in my community. He's a nice guy, he's very well known in the Cranston community. ... I have nothing to add to this story."

Asked about Hazian helping with his re-election campaign, Mattiello said: "I don't know that. I have hundreds and hundreds of people volunteer, and I've looked into it. I don't know that. I don't have any evidence of it but I'm not saying he was or he wasn't."

Mattiello also brushed aside Bell's implication that Hazian was somehow protected by the speaker's office.

"Where is their evidence?" he said. "They're just throwing stuff against the wall, and I don't respond to statements like that."

Another Mattiello connection came to light Tuesday, when a car belonging to former state Rep. Frank Montanaro Jr. was spotted outside Hazian’s home in television footage. Montanaro is one of the speaker’s top aides and closest political advisers.

In an email to Eyewitness News, Montanaro confirmed he visited Hazian on Tuesday but said Mattiello "did not know about it." Montanaro said he was out sick in recent days as he recovered from foot surgery, and on Tuesday went to visit his mother, who lives near Hazian in Cranston.

"I happen to see Greg pulling into his driveway. I have known Greg since Pop Warner football and we graduated high school together," Montanaro said. "I stopped by briefly and asked how his family was holding up through this situation. We exchanged personal thoughts about family at the curb while I sat in my car. I wished [him] well and proceeded to my mother’s house."

"That’s all that took place," Montanaro added.

Hazian worked for the legislature for nearly three years, first with the Senate Finance Committee and then the legislative council's office. Murphy was speaker for the majority of Hazian's time as an Assembly lawyer, but said he could not remember how Hazian got his job.

"I've known Mr. Hazian for 20-something years," Murphy told Eyewitness News. He noted that Hazian grew up in Cranston while Murphy grew up in West Warwick. "I knew him from around," he said.

However, Murphy indicated he has not spoken with Hazian in more than a year. "I haven't had contact with him in a while," he said.

Murphy said he did not know what led to Hazian's full-time hiring at EOHHS in November 2010, which was after Murphy's departure as speaker and in the waning weeks of the Carcieri administration. He also said he was "not aware of any relationship" between Hazian and Mattiello, who has long been close to Murphy.

Former state Sen. Stephen Alves, who was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee when Hazian was assigned there, said the panel was in need of a new part-time counsel at the time because one of its lawyers had just been appointed a judge and another had gone to work for the Senate president.

Alves said he had no involvement in choosing Hazian and has never had a personal relationship with him. "We didn't hire lawyers," Alves told Eyewitness News, adding: "I know he was assigned to Senate Finance. That's about as much as I know. ... I met him when he came to work for me."

Both former lawmakers expressed sadness about Hazian's situation.

"The Greg Hazian I know is a good father, a good family guy, and I knew him during his coaching days with the city of Cranston," Murphy said.

"Mistakes do happen. And it's very unfortunate," he continued, adding, "This is just an unfortunate incident."

Alves praised Hazian's legal work for the Senate Finance Committee during his time there.

"I've got to tell you, he was always a great guy," Alves said. "He did a good job for us in Senate Finance. He'd review the bills, worked with whoever was working on the bills to try to come up with compromises - I have no bad things to say about him. I mean, he was a nice guy. And he did his job."

"It's a very unfortunate situation for everybody involved," Alves added. "I really don't know much else about it."

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

Steph Machado contributed to this report.

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