R.I. Gov. Toughens Rules for State Lawyers After Costly Mistakes

The Rhode Island State Capitol in Providence.

The Rhode Island State Capitol in Providence. Shutterstock

 

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The new policies also effect state employees who need certifications and licensures.

Lawyers working for Rhode Island’s state government will be subject to new accountability policies that come following costly mistakes made recently by state attorneys.

Gov. Gina Raimondo announced the following rules, which also effect state employees who must maintain certifications and licenses for their positions, during a press conference on Friday:

  • Beginning July 1, all attorneys on state payroll who represent the state in any legal capacity must provide annual documentation that they are in good standing with the state Supreme Court and Bar Association. Attorneys who fail to provide documentation may be disciplined or dismissed from state employment.
  • Effective immediately, the State's Office of Internal Audit will regularly conduct random checks of employees who are required to hold certifications or licenses for their position. Employees who do not have up-to-date certification or licenses may be disciplined and could be dismissed from state employment.
  • The Department of Administration will clarify that the state's personnel policies allow supervisors to discipline or dismiss employees who violate the professional standards or professional codes of conduct required by their licensing bodies.
  • Upon entering state service, all new state employees will be required to sign an acknowledgement of their responsibility to maintain all licensures and certifications required for their position.

"The vast majority of state workers are dedicated public servants, and they go above and beyond the public's expectation,” Raimondo said in a statement. "But, in any large organization, there are people who fall short. Taxpayers—and good-standing state employees—deserve to know that we're going to be able to hold bad apples accountable."

The Providence Journal recently reported on three lawyers working for the state government who aren’t licensed to practice in the state, which has led to costly mistakes. The newspaper reported this past week:

The issue bubbled to the surface over the weekend when The Providence Journal first reported the potential $24-million cost to the state of lawyer Gregory Hazian missing a May 23 deadline to appeal a decision by Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Lanphear that the state had improperly withheld millions of dollars in Medicaid payments from dozens of nursing homes since 2016.

The state in a court filing last Friday blamed Hazian. On the brink of being fired, he resigned Monday as the $86,135-a-year “senior legal counsel” in the Executive Office of Health & Human Services. In its filing, the state also accused Hazian of withholding the fact that he had been stripped of his right to practice law in Rhode Island on Jan. 3, 2018, for failing to keep up on continuing-education requirements. The state begged the court to allow a late appeal, based on “excusable neglect.”

According to WPRI, the governor wants tough action taken against Hazian: "I want this person prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Raimondo said. "What he did wasn't right and I won't stand for it."

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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