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With her denial last week on the motion to dismiss the state-worker lawsuit filed to overturn changes made to public-employee pension plans, Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter has tipped her hand as to how the trial itself will go once it begins in September (hint: it looks like she will rule in favor of the unions). But more importantly, she has added fuel to the argument that the case should be shifted to federal court.
Using the state court system to decide whether the changes that were made first by the Carcieri administration and then by the pension-reform legislation of 2011 was always problematic. The judge herself has relatives who are beneficiaries of the systems that were modified (not to mention, she is earning a state-employee pension while serving on the bench). This is the definition of a conflict of interest.
Judge Taft-Carter, according to The New York Times, has said that if the conflict is so large that she should recuse herself, all other state judges would be required to do the same. Exactly.
Yet in Rhode Island, where the state Ethics Commission does not have much power and seems loathe to exercise it anyway, this kind of behavior has come to be routine, no matter how wrong it is.
So before the trial begins, and more attorneys’ fees are generated, and more taxpayer money is wasted, this trial should move to a court system that is not so conflicted that no matter the outcome of the trial, the ruling’s legitimacy would be questioned. It is the most just and efficient way to get this crucial issue solved as soon as it can be. •