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Powerful Warwick senator wants to be a Rhode Island Supreme Court judge

Senator Erin Lynch Prata chairs the Judiciary Committee

Warwick Senator Erin Lynch Prata spoke during a Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last June.
Warwick Senator Erin Lynch Prata spoke during a Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last June.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE – State Senator Erin Lynch Prata’s first job out of law school 20 years ago was clerking for state Supreme Court Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg. Now she wants to join her former boss on the bench.

Lynch Prata, a Warwick Democrat who chairs the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday she has applied to fill a vacancy on the state’s highest court -- Justice Gilbert V. Indeglia is set to retire later this year -- and will not seek another two-year term as a state senator this fall.

She is seeking an advisory opinion from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission about whether a “revolving door” provision in the code of ethics prohibits her from applying for the job for one year after she leaves the legislature. That provision says that elected state officials and legislators can’t go to work for state agencies, but can seek election to any other constitutional office or “be appointed to a senior policy-making position on a general officer’s or general assembly’s staff, or appointment by the governor as a department director.” It doesn’t mention judgeships.

Lynch Prata argues that Supreme Court positions are “constitutional offices,” and that she is free to apply without having to wait a year.

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“I’ve always tried to be as open and transparent as possible,” she said in a brief telephone interview Tuesday. “The law is clear. If I didn’t think this was an appropriate thing to do, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

Applications to the Supreme Court are due April 30. Lynch Prata has already received a key endorsement from Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who immediately released a statement Tuesday saying, “our state would be fortunate to have a jurist of such exceptional ability and character.”

The state’s Judicial Nominating Commission vets candidates for the vacancy, and the State Police conduct background checks on the individuals who are interviewed for the job. Governor Gina Raimondo will select from a list of up to five recommendations made by the commission.

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For Supreme Court positions, confirmation is required in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Lynch Prata said she is not planning to seek re-election in Senate District 31, and will recuse herself from any related votes if she becomes the governor’s nominee.

Lynch Prata acknowledged that she informed Raimondo’s office, Ruggerio, and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello that she intended to apply for the post. She campaigned with Raimondo in Warwick in 2018 when they were both running for re-election, and she said they developed a friendship.

“I’ve been the Senate for 12 years,” Lynch Prata said. “I’ve been thinking about whether I can do [public service] in a different way. The Supreme Court is the pinnacle.”


Dan McGowan can be reached at dan.mcgowan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.