R.I. chief justice stepping down

John O'Brien Dec. 11, 2008, 4:16pm


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) - Frank Williams, Rhode Island's Supreme Court chief justice since 2001, is retiring from his post at the end of the year.

Williams' retirement, effective Dec. 30, was announced Thursday. The 68-year-old said in his retirement letters that the Court has accomplished all the goals he set more than seven years ago, and cited family health issues as a reason for retirement.

"The man is a giant, a truly great Rhode Islander," Justice William P. Robinson III said. "The people of this state should be deeply grateful for all that he has done in their service.

"I have had the good fortune to know several genuinely great people in the course of my life, and there is no question but that Chief Justice Williams ranks very high among them."

Williams indicated that he would serve as a retired justice in any way he can.

"It has been a deep and abiding honor to serve the people of our beloved state," Williams wrote. "To them, I owe everything as they never failed to sustain me and support my mission to lead the judiciary into the 21st century, particularly my efforts to enhance access to justice and make our courts more user-friendly."

This summer, Williams wrote the opinion for a closely watched lawsuit against the former manufacturers of lead paint. State Attorney General Patrick Lynch teamed with plaintiffs firm Motley Rice to accuse a group of paint companies of creating a public nuisance.

The plaintiffs used the claim to skirt defenses that could have been raised by a products liability claim. Lead paint was outlawed in 1978.

"The State has not and cannot allege any set of facts to support its public nuisance claim that would establish that defendants interfered with a public right or that defendants were in control of the lead pigment they, or their predecessors, manufactured at the time it caused harm to Rhode Island children," Williams wrote.

Williams added that no matter how serious a problem lead poisoning is in the State, a "public nuisance law simply does not provide a remedy for this harm."

Williams authored 41 decisions per term as chief justice.

Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg will serve as interim chief justice after Williams retires. She said Williams' legacy "lies in his efforts toward judicial outreach to the citizens of Rhode Island and his determination to preserve judicial independence.

"We congratulate Chief Justice Williams and wish him well."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at john@legalnewsline.com.

More News