R.I. Chief Justice To Stand ‘Trial’ For Ties To Criminals
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ The chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court this week faces the most important trial of his life - his own.
Joseph A. Bevilacqua stands accused of undisclosed charges of ethical misconduct stemming from his acknowledged ties to convicted criminals and reputed organized crime figures, and his appearances at sites under state police surveillance.
The charges, prepared by Arthur J. Goldberg, a former U.S. Supreme Court justice, will be considered Tuesday by the 14-member Rhode Island Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline.
Bevilacqua is expected to request a closed hearing.
The chief justice has refused all requests for interviews. His Boston attorney, Richard M. Egbert, also refused to discuss the case.
Before his election to the court, the 66-year-old Bevilacqua was speaker of the state House and a criminal attorney.
In 1973, he wrote the state Parole Board on behalf of reputed organized crime boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca, who was in prison for conspiracy to commit murder. He wrote: ″I have known Mr. Patriarca for a good many years. I have found him to be a person of integrity, and, in my opinion, good moral character.″
When he moved to the court in 1976, however, Bevilacqua said: ″I realize that friendships and causes to which I have previously devoted my efforts must be set aside in deference to my election as chief justice.″
The Rhode Island Canons of Judicial Ethics say that a judge’s behavior on the bench and in everyday life ″should be beyond reproach.″
Last December, it was disclosed that Bevilacqua was often seen with twice- convicted felon Robert A. Barbato.
The chief justice also was seen carting away boxes of what he said were wholesale groceries from a warehouse operated by Bernardino ″Dino″ Contenti, who was convicted of arson-related mail fraud.
The Providence Journal last month published 1983 state police photographs of Bevilacqua at a motel which police say was owned by two reputed mob figures.
Superior Court Judge Joseph F. Rodgers Jr., chairman of the ethics panel, agreed to discuss only the logistics of the hearing. He said ″a number of witnesses have been subpoenaed, and it’s up to the individual lawyers how long it takes.″
It could not be learned whether Judge Corinne P. Grande, a commission member now presiding in the retrial of Claus von Bulow, would take part.
If eight of the 14 commission members agree the charges have merit, they will send the case to the state Supreme Court with a recommendation of censure, reprimand, suspension or removal.
Should the high court rule that disciplinary action is warranted, the decision would become public and go to the Legislature for impeachment proceedings.
It is not the first time Bevilacqua’s conduct has been the subject of scrutiny by the judicial ethics panel. In 1976, the commission investigated him for officiating at the wedding of Joseph A. Badway, a convicted felon and former associate of the late Patriarca. Badway was under indictment at the time.
The panel considered it an ″isolated incident which did not reach the point of being a serious violation of the canon of judicial ethics″ and did not censure Bevilacqua.