Rhode Island Senate files support for quashing subpoenas in toll lawsuit

January 20, 2021

Tyson Fisher

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The entire Rhode Island Senate is asking a federal appeals court to reverse a lower court’s decision to allow subpoenas for Gov. Gina Raimondo and two other high-ranking state officials in the American Trucking Associations’ truck-only toll lawsuit.

On Jan. 6, the Rhode Island Senate filed an amicus brief in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Gov. Raimondo, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, and Rep. Stephen Ucci. A district court had denied the three officials’ motion to quash subpoenas issued to them by the ATA to obtain depositions after ruling that government privilege does not apply.

The Rhode Island Senate made three key points underlining their support to quash the subpoenas. First, the lawmakers argue against the district court’s finding that statements made by the state officials have “greater relevance” than that of other lawmakers. The Senate finds that ruling “at odds with a bicameral government.”

“The district court’s orders impermissibly elevate the intent, purpose and motive of the governor and two members of the Rhode Island House of Representatives over that of the Rhode Island Senate, one of two chambers in one of Rhode Island’s three co-equal branches of government, in an attempt to divine legislative intent, purpose or motive,” the Senate’s brief states. “It is the Senate’s position that if any inquiry must be made as to the intent, purpose or motive of the legislature, the intent, purpose or motive of the Senate cannot be ignored.”

Similar to that argument, the Rhode Island Senate also argues that by relying on the statements to guide the court on whether the RhodeWorks Act was discriminatory, the court is essentially using three officials to represent the intent and motive of more than 100 members of the state’s general assembly.

“The district court failed to consider the Rhode Island constitutional and legislative process, which makes it impossible to confirm that any of the 111 members of the general assembly voted on the RhodeWorks Act for reasons purportedly expressed by the three state officials or were even aware of the reasons purportedly expressed by the state officials outside the legislative floor,” the Senate states.

Lastly, the district court determined that the officials breached government privileges by speaking publicly about the legislation. However, the Rhode Island Senate contends that orders stemming from such a ruling “cut against transparency and openness in government and will have a chilling effect on lawmakers’ communications with the public.”

In October, the district court denied Rhode Island’s motion to quash subpoenas for Raimondo, Mattiello and Ucci. Subpoenas filed in court in July ordered Raimondo and others to produce certain documents by Aug. 14. The subpoenas also ordered them to appear for a deposition on Sept. 4. Since the state officials have been challenging subpoenas, those depositions are still on hold.

On Jan. 8, President-elect Joe Biden announced that he will nominate Raimondo for secretary of commerce. It is unclear whether a potential Cabinet position may change the situation with the subpoenas. Attorneys for ATA could not be immediately reached for comment. LL

 

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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.