A good government group is supporting a bill that would bring more transparency to the process of selecting magistrates. Magistrates perform many of the same functions of judges, but they’re selected behind closed doors.
The bill sponsored by Representative Teresa Tanzi (D-North Kingstown) would move the power for picking magistrates from the presiding justice of different courts to the governor. Common Cause of Rhode Island head John Marion says the bill would bring openness to a closed process. If the bill passes, the same group that initially screens judges would also vet magistrates.
"It would give the public the ability to take part, because the public can testify during the Judicial Nominating Commission process," Marion said. "We think it would actually increase some confidence in how the selection process is occurring."
The number of magistrates has grown from 4 to 21 over the last two decades, many of them former lawmakers or legislative staffers. The General Assembly has shown little interest in changing the magistrate selection process.