PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – After serving nearly three decades on the bench, R.I. Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel has announced she is retiring at the end of the month.
In a letter to Gov. Dan McKee sent Monday, the 75-year-old said she recognizes the “awesome responsibility she was given” when she joined the Superior Court bench 28 years ago.
“I tried to give fair and impartial consideration to every decision I made and to treat those who came before me with courtesy and respect,” Vogel wrote. “I hope I have achieved those goals.”
Vogel was nominated in 1994 by then-Gov. Bruce Sundlun – in his final Superior Court appointment – and she was part of the first group of judges to be vetted by the then-new Judicial Nominating Commission.
Reached by phone, Vogel said there were only three other women on the bench when she was appointed, and only 10% of her graduating class at New England School of Law in 1975 were women.
“It was a bit of a women’s movement in influencing me [to enter the law] and believing anything was possible,” Vogel told 12 News. “I thought I could really achieve whatever I wanted to do.”
“I loved the law,” she added.
Hailing from Chicago, Vogel’s interest in the legal profession was sparked by her father who embarked on a career in law later in life. She said she married young and moved to Cape Cod where her husband – who served in the U.S. Air Force – was stationed.
“When he got out of the Air Force after a four-year stint we decided to relocate to New England,” she said. “We had visited Providence living on the Cape. We liked the size, it was an urban community but had a small-town feel.”
Vogel has a reputation of being a tough jurist who runs a tight ship in her Providence courtroom, giving anxiety to attorneys on both sides in equal measure.
In 2019, Vogel stunned prosecutors when she ruled an application for a wiretap in a sweeping investigation into the Pagan motorcycle club was invalid because the proper procedural process was not followed. The decision tossed out a large amount of evidence against several defendants.
Three years later the R.I. Supreme Court unanimously agreed with Vogel’s decision.
“This may sound corny, but every case I handled was important to the litigants,” Vogel said. “Whether it was a fender-bender or a capital offense, I like to think I approach them with the same level of energy and seriousness.”
She cited technology as the biggest change she has seen in the courts over the last three decades, and expressed concern about what she said was a “lack of resources” the judiciary is experiencing, particularly with sheriffs. The shortage has forced the judiciary to close courtrooms and exacerbated delays in processing cases already slowed by the pandemic.
“People want to understand why the cases aren’t moving through the system,” She said. “It’s not safe, and we can’t do our jobs without the resources.”
She lauded the court staff for keeping the system running during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I will tell you I am so proud of how my colleagues who had boots on the ground handled the pandemic and allowed us to work remotely,” said Vogel.
“Serving on Superior Court is to me the best of all jobs in the state of Rhode Island and outside the state,” Vogel said. “I would say whoever gets the privilege of replacing me should always be prepared to work hard, call it as he or she sees it, decide the cases on the law and the evidence without sympathy, partiality, or favor.”
Vogel said she is transitioning to a “third career” mediating and arbitrating disputes off the bench.
“I’m very, very proud of the 28 years I spent on the bench I think I made an impact to the community,” she said. “I just thought that it was a good time to move on to new endeavors.”
Applicants for Vogel’s position as associate justice will be considered by the JNC and a list of candidates will be sent to the governor, who will make a pick. His choice has to be confirmed by the R.I. Senate.
Senate leaders have indicated they expect to return to Smith Hill this fall to vote on judicial nominations.
Tim White (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.