Rhode Island governor and top Democrats subpoenaed in toll lawsuit

August 3, 2020

Tyson Fisher

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Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and two top state Democratic lawmakers have been subpoenaed to testify in the American Trucking Associations’ lawsuit against the state’s truck-only tolls.

On July 23, Raimondo and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello were subpoenaed in the federal court overseeing ATA’s truck-only toll lawsuit. The following day, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Stephen Ucci was issued a subpoena. All three are being ordered to testify and produce documents.

The move to subpoena top lawmakers in Rhode Island was expected. Just a few days prior, Judge William E. Smith of the Rhode Island District Court denied Rhode Island’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. Rhode Island attempted to have the case dismissed before the court received any evidence. However, the court ruled that ATA’s argument is valid. Therefore, both sides need to present evidence in order for the court to reach any judgment.

For ATA, that evidence will come in the form of testimony from Raimondo and other state lawmakers who crafted the RhodeWorks bill that is at the center of the case. In its response to the state’s motion for judgment, ATA points to several statements made by Raimondo, Mattiello and Ucci in news reports.

Rhode Island argued that statements made in news reports are inadmissible hearsay. ATA countered that the statements will be offered to show “what the officials believed” or “the ground on which they advocated for enactment.”

The court agreed with ATA’s assessment. However, the court also said that Rhode Island officials must be available for testimony.

To be admissible, news reports must be “supported by sufficient guarantees of trustworthiness” and “more probative on the point for which it is offered than any other evidence that the proponent can obtain through reasonable efforts,” the court said. The court found that the trustworthiness requirement has been met.

“However, so long as the state officials are available to testify in a deposition or at trial, the press reports are not the most probative evidence on the subjects and are inadmissible,” Judge Smith said.

Accordingly, subpoenas were issued for Raimondo, Mattiello and Ucci. Statements from Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti also were mentioned by ATA. However, no subpoena is needed for Alviti since he is a named defendant in the case.

State officials may argue that certain state and federal privileges apply to preclude them from being questioned in court. Evidentiary privileges for state legislators under common law is limited. Judge Smith said he will apply federal common law, not state law, to any privilege claims. As of publication, no challenges to the subpoenas have been filed.

Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.