Commission recommends Ovalles be removed as Rhode Island District Court judge
A recommendation has been made to remove Rhode Island District Court Judge Rafael A. Ovalles from the bench, according to a statement from the Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline, a group that reviews serious complaints of violations of conduct by judges and magistrates in Rhode Island.
The 14-member commission found that Ovalles had committed some 41 violations of the Rhode Island Code of Judicial Conduct. The recommendation was made in a 240-report to the court. The commission voted 13 to one for Ovalles' removal. The recommendation now goes to Supreme Court.
Judge Hugo Ricci did not vote for removal but suggested that Ovalles “be immediately suspended without pay and benefits for a period of no less than six months." Ricci also suggested that during the suppension, Ovalles should pay out of his own pocket to attend National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada and at his own expense, receive anger management and sexual harassment therapy by an individual or entity approved by the Supreme Court.
"It's very, very rare for them to ask for a judge to step down or to be no longer on the bench," said NBC 10 News Legal Analyst Mark Dana. "That's highly unusual."
Ovalles, who was accused of odd behavior, sexual harassment and being abusive to personnel and the public, appeared in court before a judicial disciplinary board in January where he faced a number allegations.
That accusation and complaints of sexual harassment are just some of what’s included in a report by the Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline.
The judge has denied all accusations against him. Angel Taveras, a member of Judge Ovalles legal team provided this statement:“We strongly disagree with the Commission's process and recommendation in this matter and will pursue all legal remedies available to Judge Ovalles."
Some of the violations Ovalles' committed, according to the commission, include: his failure to understand and articulate the concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt”; his imposing contempt for an unworthy reason and without following the correct procedure; his displaying a pattern of incompetence.
According to the Commission, witness after witness testified about Ovalles' s demeanor on the bench, including an issue with his pants. "The Commission is more alarmed by the fact that on multiple occasions, court staff observed Judge Ovalles in chambers with his pants unbuttoned and unzipped," the report states.
Clerk Karen Kanelos testified that she twice observed Judge Ovalles with his pants unzipped in chambers. In both instances, Kanelos first knocked on Ovalles’s door, was instructed to enter, and found Ovalles sitting at his desk with his pants undone. In addition, another clerk Sherri Rossi also witnessed Ovalles with his pants unbuttoned in chambers two times.
Ovalles, however, said the complaints were because he was "strict and disliked."
"We would point out that Judge Ovalles was vindicated on the most salacious allegation in the Commission's Complaint," Taveras said. "The Commission conceded that Judge Ovalles never removed his pants in chambers and ‘was not seen by staff with his pants removed.
"The allegation in the Commission's Complaint regarding Judge Ovalles' ‘propensity to remove his pants’ in chambers was shown to be patently false,"” Taveras added.
"The crux of the issue is not as Judge Ovalles perceives it. Rather the objective record reveals the issue to be the impatient, undignified, and disrespectful manner in which he treated litigants, attorneys and staff," the commission writes in the report.
The report goes on to say that evidence shows Ovalles often became overwhelmed by matters before him, causing his judgment to become clouded on the bench.
After months of our reporting on the case, Judge Ovalles filed a civil lawsuit against the I-Team's Parker Gavigan, NBC 10 and our parent company, Sinclair Broadcast Group. Ovalles claims defamation and invasion of privacy. NBC 10 and Sinclair have filed a counterclaim, alleging Ovalles abused Rhode Island's judicial investigation process for wrongful purposes, and to intimidate witnesses.