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Rhode Island Chief Justice Resigns

May 29, 1986

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ State Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph Bevilacqua, the subject of ongoing impeachment hearings in the Legislature, Wednesday resigned the post he has held for 10 years.

Bevilacqua, 67, has been the focus of daily impeachment hearings before the House Judiciary Committee that have detailed his ties to reputed mobsters, alleged adulterous affairs and suspected misuse of state contractors.

Bevilacqua submitted his resignation to Gov. Edward D. DiPrete, one of several top state officials who had been calling for the resignation since December 1984.

Bevilacqua cited the controversies of the last two years and their effect on his health for his resignation, effective June 30.

″Over the past two years, my family, friends and indeed myself have suffered greatly, both emotionally and physically,″ Bevilacqua said in the letter.

″The current proceedings have caused a deterioration in my health to such a degree that I can no longer continue in my present capacity as chief justice. ... These proceedings have not only taxed myself, my family and my friends, but have also caused a substantial financial burden on the people of the state of Rhode Island.

″Having all of these considerations in mind, and as always, the good of the people of the state of Rhode Island, I therefore tender my resignation as chief justice of the Supreme Court, effective June 30, 1986, the end of the current judicial term,″ Bevilacqua said.

Bevilacqua, a former criminal attorney, could not be reached for comment, despite repeated telephone calls to his home and offices. The news of his resignation broke after his son, attorney Joseph Bevilacqua Jr., released the letter to a Providence television station.

The Rhode Island House immediately accepted the resignation letter without comment after it was introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeffrey J. Teitz, whose panel has spent six months considering an impeachment resolution.

House Speaker Matthew J. Smith thanked the Judiciary Committee for its handling of ″a very delicate situation.″

Bevilacqua was House speaker from 1969 to 1975.

DiPrete hailed the resignation as ″the closing page in this unhappy chapter in Rhode Island history.″ The Republican governor then hinted there might be an attempt to seek criminal charges against Bevilacqua.

″It is my understanding that all records pertaining to alleged criminal acts, if any, from these proceedings will be turned over to the attorney general for further review,″ DiPrete said.

Former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti, special impeachment counsel, said he thought Bevilacqua ″did the right thing,″ but he declined comment on whether there may be basis for criminal charges.

″If they did pursue a criminal case, it would be a very, very tough one to prosecute,″ Civiletti said. He declined to elaborate.

The furor surrounding the chief justice began in December 1984, when The Providence Journal detailed meetings between Bevilacqua and several reputed members of the Rhode Island underworld.

The chief justice was seen several times meeting with Robert A. Barbato, a twice-convicted criminal, whom Bevilacqua described as a longtime friend. At the time, Barbato was under indictment on a federal loan-sharking charge.

He also was spotted by the newspaper and state police investigators loading groceries into his car from a food warehouse run by reputed mobster Bernadino ″Dino″ Contenti.

In April 1985, the newspaper revealed the chief justice was seen several times at a Smithfield motel with two women, one of whom was his court secretary. Authorities said the motel was owned by men linked to drug smuggling and illegal gambling, and Bevilacqua was not seen registering or paying for the rooms.

The reports sparked an investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline, which last June censured Bevilacqua and placed him on a four-month, unpaid leave. He returned to the bench Nov. 1 despite calls for his resignation.

It was the second time the judicial ethics panel investigated Bevilacqua. The first time was in 1976 for presiding at the wedding of Joseph A. Badway, a convicted felon and former chauffeur to late mob boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca.

After Bevilacqua returned to the court, the Legislature unsuccessfully tried to have his seat declared vacant, a move which was followed by the impeachment proceedings.

During the hearings, the last of which was Tuesday night, witnesses recounted alleged gifts to the judge, including free electrical work at his three Rhode Island properties and almost $26,000 in deferred interest payments on a horse farm.

Witnesses also said court employees worked at the farm, apparently during court hours and in return received favored treatment from Bevilacqua.

The committee also was investigating whether the chief justice perjured himself during January testimony before the President’s Commission on Organized Crime.

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