PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – In an extraordinary move, R.I. Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini has ordered Attorney General Peter Neronha to appear before the court after the state’s top prosecutor posted critical comments on social media.
On Nov. 8, Neronha write a post on his X, formerly known as Twitter, account criticizing the ability for criminal defendants to request a trial by judge instead of a jury.
“[I]n federal system, the prosecution must agree to a jury waived trial in addition to the defendant. In state system, only defendant must agree,” he wrote. “That’s a real weakness for our state system.”
In response to a commenter who replied to his initial post, Neronha went on to say, “When some judges never oversee a jury trial it’s not a coincidence.”
Neronha was commenting on a Providence Journal story about the criminal case of Barrington dentist Dr. Richard Gordon, who was found guilty in 2021 of simple assault on his neighbor.
While Judge Procaccini did not cite the post directly, he gave the reason for summoning Neronha to his courtroom as something that occurred on Nov. 8 at approximately 7:30 a.m., which was the date and time of Neronha’s original post.
Neronha’s increasing outspokenness on social media — about topics ranging from his own cases to sports — has been widely discussed among local political observers since he won a second term in November 2022. That is partly because Neronha is openly considering a run for governor in 2026 and regularly criticizes the actions of Gov. Dan McKee’s administration.
Procaccini often presides over so-called bench trials, including the high-profile prosecution of political operative Jeff Britt. Neronha’s office lost that case after Procaccini found the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Britt had committed money laundering in a political mailer case.
When Procaccini ordered Neronha to appear, he was issuing a decision in the Gordon case, who had been convicted of simple assault and disorderly conduct after an altercation with a neighbor who is of Iranian descent. The incident was caught on video, in which Gordon is heard calling his neighbor a “rag-head” and using the N-word.
Neronha’s office unsuccessfully tried to prosecute Gordon under the state’s Hate Crime Sentencing Act, which enhances penalties if the crime was racially motivated.
At trial, a district court judge found Gordon guilty of simple assault and sentenced him to a year of probation, but ruled the state failed to meet the burden that the crime was racially motivated.
Gordon appealed to the superior court and on Friday Procaccini dismissed the conviction.
Timothy Rondeau, a spokesperson for Neronha, declined to comment on the judge’s order summoning the attorney general to court, but said they were “disappointed and wholeheartedly disagree” with Procaccini’s decision to drop the charges against Gordon.
“We are grateful to the victim and his family for courageously engaging in this process — not once but twice – in an attempt to seek justice,” Rondeau said in the email. “We are also grateful that a well-respected judge on our state’s district court found the defendant guilty and we hope that gives the victim and his family some measure of peace.”
“Despite this outcome, we will continue to seek justice for victims of crimes motivated by bigotry and hate,” Rondeau said.
Gordon’s lawyer, former U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island Robert Clark Corrente, declined to comment on the judge’s order to the attorney general. But he expressed appreciation for Procaccini’s decision in the Gordon case.
“In our view it was absolutely the right result,” Corrente said. “Dr. Gordon should never have been charged since he was the one who was the victim of the assault rather than the assailant.”
In 2006, then-Superior Court Michael Silverstein held the attorney general at the time, Patrick Lynch, in contempt of court for public comments he made during a high-profile lead paint trial. Lynch was fined him $5,000.