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Constitutional Law

Lawyer Sues RI Chief Justice, Says He Launched Law Practice Probe in Retaliation for Court Critique

Posted Dec 20, 2011 1:41 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A longtime Rhode Island practitioner who is known as a politically active critic of the state's top court has filed a federal lawsuit against its chief justice and other defendants.

In it, Keven A. McKenna alleges that Chief Justice Paul Suttell and other defendants violated his constitutional rights and sought to chill his freedom to express his political views by launching an unjustified investigation of his law practice outside of the normal attorney disciplinary process, according to WPRI.

The station provides a link to the complaint (PDF), which was filed Dec. 5 in federal court in Rhode Island.

It contends that Suttell, without constitutional authority, appointed a lawyer answerable only to the chief justice to review McKenna's law office records for the past seven years. There is, to the best of his knowledge, no client complaint or standard attorney disciplinary investigation underlying the probe, McKenna says in the suit.

Among other objections to the probe, the suit alleges that the investigation is a pretext for chilling McKenna's First Amendment rights, is unduly burdensome and violates his criminal clients' confidentiality and a supreme court rule by obtaining financial information related to their cases without prior judicial approval.

The WPRI article doesn't include any comment from Suttell or the supreme court about McKenna's case.

However, it notes that McKenna was accused by a former employee in 2009 of physically assaulting him and is fighting a related workers' compensation claim.

The supreme court conducted a fiery hearing in January at which McKenna was grilled about his law practice, especially why it operated under two different names, the newspaper recounts. McKenna said, both then and in the suit, that he was in the process of changing its legal form.

His federal complaint seeks a declaratory judgment concerning his constitutional rights, a restraining order preventing "any further retaliatory actions" concerning his free speech rights and injunctive relief concerning the supreme court's current investigation. It also requests attorney fees and costs.

McKenna was admitted to practice in Rhode Island in 1973, according to his suit.

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