Nearly two months after they were originally recommended for appointments to become Warwick’s two new municipal court judges, Kelly McElroy and Kevin Murphy were approved by the Warwick City Council this past Wednesday.
McElroy – who was subject to criticism from members of the public as the daughter of James McElroy, Ward 4 Councilman and chair of the council’s Appointments Committee – was approved with a 6-2 vote, with her father abstaining from the vote (as he had done during the committee meeting in July when discussing her candidacy) due to their familial relationship.
“I think Kelly McElroy is a fine candidate and she has qualifications that are exemplary for that post,” explained City Council President Steve Merolla, who was one of the ‘no’ votes. “At the same time, our current municipal court judge, Joel Gerstenblatt, has been there for over 20 years. He lives in my area. He's done an outstanding job, I don’t think anybody here on the council would say he’s done anything other than an outstanding job. My own opinion is if something's not broke, you don’t fix it.”
Merolla has been vocal against the appointing of two municipal court judges since it was first proposed in July, a move that Mayor Joseph Solomon said would save taxpayer dollars because splitting the position makes it so that neither part-time appointee can collect benefits for the position and the salary remains the same at $15,000 (split two ways for $7,500 each).
Kevin Murphy’s appointment was even closer, being approved by a 5-4 vote, where Merolla, Ward 1 Councilman Rick Corley, Ward 3 Councilman Tim Howe and Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur all voted against his appointment.
Corley explained his reasoning for voting ‘no’ against Murphy as being two-fold – one reason being that Murphy does not reside in Warwick, and the other relating to an exchange he had with a citizen (Jay Buongiavonni, who heads the Warwick Financial Crisis Committee) during the Appointments Committee meeting in July, where Murphy was audibly unappreciative of a question Buongiovanni asked regarding his father’s longstanding relationship to Mayor Solomon, and then subsequently yelled into the microphone when Buongiovanni raised his voice later in his inquiry.
(You can view the interaction yourself by following this link and going to the 3:16:40 mark of the video)
“I did not think that his response by trying to speak louder and talk down in [response] to the questions that were being put to him by the citizen during this interview process gave me any indication that the temperament of Mr. Murphy would be what I call acceptable judicial temperament,” Corley said. “If that is the response in an open discussion, which is basically a job interview, I would have serious questions concerning how when he would be in charge of the room judging cases for the city of Warwick, and what his temperament would be.”
Ladouceur also agreed with Corley’s concerns
“I take the interview process very seriously,” he said. “It's something that I do all the time and typically my decisions are based upon how that interview process goes. Having said that, I will not be supporting this appointment either.”
Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix, who voted in favor of the appointment as part of the appointments committee, explained his vote in favor of Murphy.
“This is ultimately the mayor's selection and although I would, generally, myself in an ideal candidate look for someone from the city of Warwick – I feel that is an important factor – I certainly do not view that as a critical or decision-making factor,” he said regarding his citizenship outside Warwick.
“While I certainly was not pleased with how that hearing went, I do have to make an allowance for the greater context,” Rix said in regards to the incident with Buongiovanni. “And while I do not think that was the finest moment, I also look to the reputation in the community as to temperament and I must make some allowance for the context in which Mr. Murphy was over to the side and the gentleman speaking was speaking loudly into the microphone, which I think played a factor into Mr. Murphy raising his voice. Was that a good idea? I would say not, but that's not going to be a factor in causing me to change my vote.”
Merolla reiterated his same point of view from McElroy’s appointment minutes before.
“Again, he's an outstanding attorney, he has impeccable credentials,” he said. “As I said before, you don't fix something if it's not broken. I also think it's important that we have a judge who is a Warwick resident…I think that's an important qualification. I also don’t believe it’s in the best interest to have two judges. I don’t think we’ve had two judges for almost 25 years. I don’t think it's a savings. For those reasons and those reasons only that's why I'll be voting ‘no’ on his appointment.”
McElroy and Murphy’s two-year terms are set to expire on October 1 of 2021.