Providence, RI: The Office of the Attorney General, under AG Peter Neronha, has a lot of explaining to do after the disastrous and reckless prosecution of Jeffrey Britt. In what was a high-profile felony prosecution of a political figure, which ensnared several other high profile political figures during the course of the trial, the Attorney General should have been sure to have rock-solid evidence to present to Judge Procaccini in order to meet the high burden of proof necessary in a criminal trial – that being proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Not only did the evidence fail to meet that standard, the evidence as presented to the Court, fell “woefully short” of even establishing probable cause that a crime was committed.

As noted by Judge Procaccini, the State, in examining its own witnesses, created “a patchwork of suggested facts and circumstances intentionally woven into the framework of the direct examination of its witnesses through the use of leading questions.” In other words, the judge found, as a matter of fact, that the State was essentially telling its own witnesses what to say. The judge makes that clear in his footnote when he says “the State’s version of events was spun through the suggestive leading questioning of witnesses.”

This is an outrageous abuse of the immense prosecutorial power of the AG’s Office. Trial advocacy skills 101 teaches anyone who is a litigator that you cannot establish the operative facts of your case with leading questions of your own witnesses who are not hostile and/or adverse. The fact that the former Acting US Attorney and the Chief of the Public Integrity Unit of the AG’s Office could not even establish basic facts without the use of intentionally leading and suggestive direct examination questions should shake the citizens of this State to its core. How are we the people supposed to trust that the AG’s Office is 1) competently doing its job; and 2) doing its job without breaking the rules?

The fact of the matter is this case should never have seen the light of a criminal courtroom. AG Neronha will counter with the fact that a grand jury returned an indictment and he (the AG) knew in his heart that something wrong had happened. Well, I’m sorry but ANY prosecutor can indict ANYONE on ANY charge if they want to. There is no “other side of the story” in grand jury proceedings, just the prosecutors’ side. And if the AG thinks that his heart, gut or instinct should dictate whether a case should be prosecuted in a criminal court, he needs to step down immediately because he fundamentally misunderstands the role of a prosecutor.

It is not his job to simply win and get convictions at any cost. The prosecutor has special responsibilities – a responsibility to the people of the State; a responsibility to any victims of crimes, a responsibility to only prosecute cases with evidence reasonably likely to result in a conviction, and ABOVE ALL, a responsibility to ensuring justice for all involved, including the defendant. This means putting aside personal feelings, politics, and any other extra-judicial consideration that involves something other than admissible evidence and an analysis of the facts and laws of each case individually. Clearly, that was not done in this case.

But the worst part of this is that when confronted with the judge’s findings following the not guilty decision, the Attorney General basically said (paraphrasing) “I still believe in this case and if I had to do it all over again, I would.” That is either gross incompetence or arrogance… probably a combination of both. If I were the Attorney General and the judge ripped my office like Judge Procaccini just did in this case, I wouldn’t be doubling down on what I did. I would be looking to address the critical mistakes, or intentional misconduct, that took place within my office to ensure nothing like this happens again. Peter Neronha is apparently doing none of that and remains defiant in the face of a blistering rebuke of his office by a well-respected, experienced justice of the Superior Court.

While this is the highest profile example of AG Neronha’s failure during his first two years in office, it is far from the only example. As someone who deals with the attorneys in his office on a near-daily basis, I can say that this flawed mentality is pervasive under AG Neronha’s “leadership.” The management has stripped their line prosecutors of any meaningful discretion to manage their cases. That usually results in less experienced attorneys having to seek permission to make a routine decision in one of their cases. The judicious use of discretion by a prosecutor is vital to being able to achieve justice in each case because it requires that attorney to critically evaluate each case and make a decision in the best interests of all the parties to which the Attorney General has a duty, not rely on the decision-making skills (or lack thereof) of a superior, which teaches the less-experienced attorney nothing and doesn’t help develop that attorney’s ability to learn how to use their discretion.

If elected Attorney General in 2022, I am committing myself to ensuring that only those who understand and appreciate the unique and special role of a prosecutor will work in my administration. I will not stand for prosecutions motivated by anything other than laws and facts and the search for justice in each and every case. I certainly hope AG Neronha takes a step back following this case and takes the appropriate steps to do the same.

I do not know Jeffrey Britt. I have never worked with him and to my knowledge, I have never even met him. This statement does not constitute an endorsement nor a condemnation of anything Mr. Britt has or has not done.

Chas Calenda

Author Chas Calenda

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