I was just “another Lynch.”
That’s how Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court Erin Lynch Prata described her early years growing up in the Cowesett …
I was just “another Lynch.”
That’s how Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court Erin Lynch Prata described her early years growing up in the Cowesett section of Warwick. She was the ninth of 10 children born to the late, legendary attorney John Lynch and wife, Pat, who certainly had her hands full raising 10 children – especially considering that the 10 children were only about 15 years apart.
The youngest of the eight “Lynch girls,” Erin is still close to many of the friends that she grew up with, as well as friends from tennis, basketball and volleyball in high school.
Reminiscing about those early days she said, “we were more afraid of our parents then anyone else, so we were all very respectful.”
Sitting at Café Tempo in Apponaug over a cup of coffee with the Judge one recent morning, I could not help but think how refreshing it was – in this day of agnostic individualism – to hear someone talk about family and community, which is still the center of her universe.
In fact, she still lives about two miles from her childhood home, with husband Joe Prata, who is an Asset Management Assistant at the Narragansett Bay Commission.
Erin attended Warwick schools and graduated from Toll Gate High School in 1993. After that, she attended Boston College, graduating in 1997 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History.
She would then attend the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C., and graduate in 2000 with her Juris Doctor degree.
She returned to Warwick to join the family law firm, Lynch, Bernard and Lynch, located prominently on Toll Gate Road near Kent Hospital.
It wasn’t long after she started her busy law practice that she got the bug for politics, and in 2008, when then State Senator John “Jack” Revens announced his retirement, she ran for the seat in a hotly contested Democratic primary. She won in a landslide. (Not really, she won by 10 votes). She would then, however, easily win the General Election (and every election thereafter, running mostly unopposed), so her career in politics was off and running.
She would rise through the ranks along the way, ultimately claiming the prestigious position of Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
I joked that for her to rise to that level, it had to require her to “drop the gloves” on occasion.
She just laughed.
Her political career was not without some challenges.
She remarked that the biggest of those challenges was “public perception.”
She explained, “both locally and nationally there is distrust in government. We are polarized.”
Among the issues that have brought us there, she lists “abortion and firearms” as the most volatile.
She recalled a particular May or June in 2019 when thousands of people descended upon the state capitol to strongly state their case (on those issues), most of whom wore the colored shirts that identified their position on the issue.
She said it was not about “promoting their cause” that concerned her, but rather about “the volatility of the building.” She continued “the hardest part was dealing with the emotions, but my training as a Family Court lawyer was very helpful.”
She didn’t want to see either issue “fracture the system.”
She thought that preparation was the key to keeping order in those highly-volatile times and remembered the words of her late father John: “if you prepare for war – they are much more likely to come in peace.”
I then asked her what prompted her to run for office in the first place?
She quickly responded, “I ran for office because I wanted to make a difference.”
Her large family, along with her 28 nieces and nephews were a catalyst, she said.
“This is our home. I could have gone anywhere after law school. I wanted to come home.”
She continued, “I had a great law practice, but the opportunity presented itself for me to make a difference.” Something that was obviously prevalent in the history of the Lynch family, as her grandfather James Lynch was a Warwick Chief of Police. Generations before him were also in law enforcement.
On Dec. 8, 2020, her life would change dramatically, when Governor Gina Raimondo nominated her to fill a vacancy in the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
After some typical political discourse mostly surrounding the timing of the appointment, Erin Lynch Prata was sworn in as an Associate Justice on Jan. 4, 2021. A heady day for “one of the Lynch kids” to be sure.
Asked who she looked up to in the judicial system, it seamed to be a no-brainer for her. “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” who championed, among other things, women’s rights.
“When I went to law school in Washington, my champion was Justice Sandra Day O’Connor,” she added.
While we were on favorites I asked who her favorite Governor was.
She laughed and said, “Governor Raimondo of course!”
“Not only because she appointed me, but she has vision that the state has never seen. The State of the Union was a prime example. There she was amidst the most powerful people in the country,” she added.
Erin was also very circumspect about her duties as a Supreme Court Judge.
“Though we are appointed politically, we have to be above the fray. We have to use our best judgement on sometimes polarizing issues.”
Asked what one of her biggest judicial challenges was, she said “we have to wrap our arms around DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion).”
She also remarked, “I was trained (legally) as an advocate. It takes time to evolve. My job is very different. Now I interpret the law and not write it.”
I then asked what her first day on the job was like. She paused and said, “I literally get the chills every time the curtain opens. There are five of us standing in our robes and when it opens, we all walk out together.”
She credits not only her family but former Warwick Mayor Joe Walsh, her late father’s best friend, with launching her political career that got her to this moment in time.
She also recalled that prior to that first curtain opening, she received best wishes from female judges throughout the court system.
A proud moment for all of them, as this is the first time in our state’s history that women make up the majority of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
She then stopped for a moment, and while I was putting on my coat to leave, said “but the most heartwarming thing was when we were standing there waiting for that fist curtain to open, Chief Justice (Paul) Suttell walked over to me and said “God I wish your Dad was here to see this.”
She said she couldn’t control the tears.
And doesn’t that tell you all you need to know about Justice Erin Lynch Prata?
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