§ 8-16.1-5. Nomination and appointment of supreme court justices.
(a) The governor shall immediately notify the commission of any vacancy or prospective vacancy of a justice of the Rhode Island supreme court. The commission shall advertise for each vacancy and solicit prospective candidates and shall consider names submitted from any source. Within ninety (90) days of any vacancy the commission shall publicly submit the names of not less than three (3) and not more than five (5) highly qualified persons for each vacancy to the governor. The governor shall fill any vacancy of any justice of the Rhode Island supreme court by nominating one of the three (3) to five (5) highly qualified persons forwarded to him or her by the commission for the court.
(b) The governor shall fill any such vacancy within twenty-one (21) days of the public submission by the commission.
(c) Each nomination shall be forwarded forthwith to the senate and to the house of representatives, and by and with the advice and consent of the senate, and by and with the separate advice and consent of the house of representatives, each nominee shall be appointed by the governor to serve subject to the general laws. The senate and the house of representatives shall, after seven (7) calendar days of receipt of the nomination, separately consider the nomination, but if either house fails within sixty (60) days after the submission to confirm the nominee, the governor shall appoint some other person to fill the vacancy and shall submit his or her appointment to the senate and to the house of representatives for confirmation in like manner until the senate and the house of representatives shall each separately confirm the nomination. If the nominee is rejected by either house, the commission shall submit a new list of three (3) to five (5) candidates to the governor for the purpose of nomination in accordance with this chapter. Any new list may include but need not be limited to the names of any candidates who were previously submitted to the governor by the commission but who were not forwarded to the senate and to the house of representatives for their advice and consent.
(d) During the time for consideration of the nominees by the senate and by the house of representatives, the judiciary committee of each house shall separately conduct an investigation and public hearing on the question of the qualifications of the nominee or nominees. At the public hearings, the testimony of every witness shall be taken under oath and stenographic records shall be taken and maintained. Further, the judiciary committees shall during the course of their investigations and hearings have the power upon majority vote of the committee members present to issue witness subpoenas, subpoenas duces tecum, and orders for the production of books, accounts, papers, records, and documents which shall be signed and issued by the chairperson of the committee, or the person serving in his or her capacity. All such subpoenas and orders shall be served as subpoenas in civil cases in the superior court are served, and witnesses so subpoenaed shall be entitled to the same fees for attendance and travel as provided for witnesses in civil cases in the superior court. If the person subpoenaed to attend before the committee fails to obey the command of the subpoena without reasonable cause, refuse to be sworn, or to be examined, or to answer a legal and pertinent question, or if any person shall refuse to produce books, accounts, papers, records, and documents material to the issue, set forth in an order duly served on him or her, the committee by majority vote of the committee members present may apply to any justice of the superior court, for any county, upon proof by affidavit of the fact, for a rule or order returnable in not less than two (2) nor more than five (5) days, directing the person to show cause before the justice who made the order or any other justice of the superior court, why he or she should not be adjudged in contempt. Upon the return of the order, the justice before whom the matter is brought on for hearing shall examine under oath the person, and the person shall be given an opportunity to be heard, and if the justice shall determine that the person has refused without reasonable cause or legal excuse to be examined or to answer a legal and pertinent question, or to produce books, accounts, papers, records, and documents material to the issue which he or she was ordered to bring or produce, he or she may forthwith commit the offender to the adult correctional institution, there to remain until the person submits to do the act which he or she was so required to do, or is discharged according to law.
(e) The judiciary committees shall, for the purpose of investigating the qualifications of the nominee or nominees, be furnished with a report compiled by the state police in conjunction with the attorney general's office indicating the determinations and findings of the state police and attorney general's office investigations concerning the background of the nominee or nominees, and the report shall include, but not be limited to, the following:
(1) Whether the nominee has ever been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor or felony in this or any other state or foreign country;
(2) Whether the nominee has ever filed a personal bankruptcy petition or an assignment for the benefit of creditors in this or any other state or foreign country; and whether the nominee has ever been a partner in, held ten percent (10%) or more of stock in, or held office in any sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation that has been involved in bankruptcy or receivership actions as a debtor or because of insolvency at the time the nominee was a partner in, held ten percent (10%) or more stock in, or held office in any such sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation;
(3) Whether the nominee has ever had a civil judgment rendered against him or her arising out of an allegation of fraud, misrepresentation, libel, slander, professional negligence, or any intentional tort in this state or any other state or foreign country;
(4) The state police in conjunction with the attorney general's department shall provide in their report the names and addresses of each and every source of their information.
(f) The reports set forth in this section shall be delivered to the chairpersons and members of the judiciary committees in addition to the nominee or nominees only prior to the commencement of the public hearings. Provided, however, that if the nominee or nominees withdraw or decline the appointment prior to the public hearings then the report or reports shall be returned to the chairpersons of the judiciary committees and destroyed.
(g) The committees shall also require a financial statement to be submitted by each nominee, prior to the public hearing, to the chairperson of the committee, to investigate each nominee to determine his or her compliance with the provisions of chapter 14 of title 36.
(h) Any associate justice of the supreme court who is appointed to serve as the chief justice of that court on an interim basis shall retain his or her status as an associate justice until the appointment to chief justice is made permanent.
(i) In case a vacancy shall occur when the general assembly is not in session, the governor shall appoint some person from a list of three (3) to five (5) persons submitted to the governor by the commission to fill the vacancy until the general assembly shall next convene, when the governor shall make an appointment as provided in this section.
(P.L. 1994, ch. 42, § 1; P.L. 1999, ch. 97, § 1.)