Former R.I. AG candidate files suit against state SC justice

Jessica M. Karmasek Dec. 22, 2011, 10:35am


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) - A Rhode Island lawyer who made an unsuccessful run for attorney general in 2010 is suing the state's Supreme Court chief justice and others in federal court for an "unfounded" investigation of his law practice.

Keven A. McKenna filed a 24-page complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island Dec. 5.

The named defendants include Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Suttell; Debra Saunders, clerk of the Supreme Court; J. Joseph Baxter, state court administrator; Deborah Walsh, state director of court finance and assistant administrator for finance and budget; and Marc DeSisto, a Providence lawyer.

McKenna claims in his suit that the defendants began an "otherwise unfounded and unconstitutional" inquisition of his practice in January in order to "place him in a false light as retaliation" for his criticisms of the state Supreme Court.

In particular, McKenna admits to filing litigation in 2005 challenging former Chief Justice Frank Williams' constitutional ability to hold dual state and federal judicial positions.

McKenna argues DeSisto was appointed by Suttell without state constitutional authority on the pretext of inquiring about "possible bookkeeping errors" in his business accounts for the last seven years.

"The defendants have no inherent constitutional or statutory powers to regulate the business practices of attorneys outside of court room proceedings on behalf of parties," he wrote.

On top of that, McKenna alleges Suttell -- without a pending case or controversy -- held an "unauthorized" public hearing in January, where members of the Court made negative comments about him and challenged his right to become a Limited Liability Corporation.

The Court was apparently concerned he was operating under two different names, which is illegal.

"Neither defendant Suttell nor any member of the R.I. Supreme Court are a member of the R.I. Disciplinary Board and have any statutory or constitutional authority to investigate the business practices of Keven A. McKenna," McKenna wrote.

"Defendant Suttell and members of the R.I. Supreme Court do not have constitutional standing to initiate complaints and then to adjudicate these same complaints they initiate before the R.I. Disciplinary Board whose activity is reviewed by defendant Suttell."

McKenna argues that only an elected attorney general, under the state constitution, has the authority to conduct an investigation of statutory violations and to appoint attorneys to investigate him for possible violations of state statutes.

Among his requests for relief, he asks the federal court to declare the defendants' investigation of him a violation of his constitutional rights and to restrain the defendants from taking "any further retaliatory actions" against him.

In an order filed last week, the court's judges recused themselves from participating in the case.

Instead, the case has been reassigned to the District of New Hampshire, to Judges Steven J. McAuliffe and Magistrate Judge Landya B. McCafferty.

Michael W. Field, an assistant attorney general with Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin's office, is representing the defendants.

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