Commission: State Supreme Court justice violated ethics rule

February 26, 2019

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The state Ethics Commission found Tuesday that a Rhode Island Supreme Court justice violated an ethics rule.

Commission members determined that Justice Francis Flaherty did not report his service on the board of a Catholic lawyers’ group on financial disclosure forms required of public officials, according to Jason Gramitt, the commission’s executive director.

The finding was based on the clear wording of the question on the forms, Gramitt said. The commission imposed a civil penalty of $200.

Flaherty testified that the omission wasn’t a knowing and willful violation of the ethics code. He said he didn’t think to list the St. Thomas More Society of Rhode Island, given that it had limited activities and rarely met. The group hosted the annual Red Mass with the Providence Diocese in October for members of the legal profession to ask for divine guidance.

Flaherty has also questioned the commission’s authority to enact financial disclosure provisions. He plans to appeal.

“We certainly respect what the Ethics Commission does and we respect the process, we just thought they got it wrong,” Flaherty’s attorney, Marc DeSisto, said after the hearing. “So we’ll go to the next level, which is the Superior Court.”

The ethics complaint against Flaherty was filed in 2016 by a woman who sued the Diocese of Providence after saying she was abused by Brendan Smyth, a notorious pedophile priest. Her lawsuit was dismissed due to the statute of limitations. Flaherty wrote a unanimous Supreme Court decision rejecting her appeal.

The woman says Flaherty should have recused himself because diocesan officials are involved in the St. Thomas More Society.

Flaherty was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 2003.