Superior court rules in Justice Flaherty’s favor in case over $200 fine for failing to disclose links to Catholic organization

Providence Journal

July 24, 2020

By Katherine Gregg

A Superior Court judge has sided with Supreme Court Justice Frank Flaherty – and against the Rhode Island Ethics Commission – in heated long running fight over a $200 fine for failing to disclose links to Catholic organization.

In a decision out Friday, Judge Brian Stern vacated the Ethics Commission’s ruling that Flaherty’s failure to list his position as President of the St. Thomas More Society on his financial statements for the period running from 2010-2015 constituted “a knowing and willful violation″ of state ethics law.

Among Stern’s findings: “The Commission Decision contained no finding that the Plaintiff’s actions were deliberate or intentional, and the weight of the evidence presented during the adjudicatory hearing supported a conclusion that the Plaintiff’s actions were not deliberate.

“Accordingly, the Commission Decision is clearly erroneous and affected by error of law,″ the judge ruled in a decision that did not go as far as Flaherty wanted the court to go in challenging the Ethics Commission’s powers.

Flaherty’s judicial battle stemmed from the court decision he wrote denying the appeal of Helen Hyde, a woman who had sued the Roman Catholic bishop of Providence — unsuccessfully — seeking damages from alleged abuse by the Rev. Brendan Smyth more than 40 years ago.

Hyde brought a complaint against Flaherty before the Ethics Commission in 2016, saying he should have mentioned that he was president of the St. Thomas More Society of Rhode Island on his financial and conflict-of-interest disclosure forms from 2010 to 2015. The Society hosts the annual Red Mass, a traditional Catholic celebration of the opening of the court term.

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