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NBC 10 I-Team: Embattled judge's retirement raises questions

Judge Raphael Ovalles (WJAR)

The decision by a Rhode Island district court judge to retire while in the midst of a judiciary discipline case has left several questions unanswered.

In August, the Rhode Island Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline recommended that Judge Raphael Ovalles be removed from the bench. It determined Ovalles had violated the judicial canon 41 times.

The recommendation is currently before Rhode Island’s Supreme Court.

But on Thursday, Ovalles notified Gov. Gina Raimondo that he plans to retire Oct. 31.

So, what happens to the disciplinary proceeding against him? And once retired, would he qualify for a state pension?

Court spokesman Craig Berke told the NBC 10 I-Team that the disciplinary proceedings against the judge are still pending in the Supreme Court, unless Ovalles withdraws his objection to the committee’s recommendation that he be removed from the bench. As of Friday, there had been no new filings in the case.

Ovalles will be 53 years old when the leaves the bench next month, short of the state retirement age of 65.

The court spokesman said once he is 65, he will not be eligible to collect a pension.

"It is the court administration's position, on the advice of its general counsel, that Judge Ovalles is not entitled to a pension,” Berke told the NBC 10 I-Team.

Ovalles, through his legal team, disagreed. His nephew and attorney -- former Providence Mayor Angel Taveras -- told the NBC 10 I-Team that the judge intends to claim his pension once he’s of age.

“Judge Ovalles was an active and contributing member of the State retirement system for over 12 years and will continue to defend his rights to retirement benefits which he is entitled to upon reaching the age of 65,” Taveras said in an emailed statement “Rhode Island law only allows for the revocation of a pension in the case where a public employee has been convicted of a crime related to employment.”

If he were to qualify, with 12 years of service on the bench, Ovalles could collect 75 percent of the average of his three highest years of salary. That works out to about $120,000 per year for life.

Rhode Island Treasurer Seth Magaziner told the NBC 10 I-Team that because Ovalles won’t be eligible to apply for benefits for another 12 years, the matter remains unresolved.

"We haven't received a pension application from the judge yet. So when we do, we'll make a determination,” Magaziner said. “The Retirement Board, along with our legal counsel, will review the application, and we'll decide at that time whether he qualifies or not."

For nearly two years, Ovalles has been home on paid administrative leave, continuing to collect his salary of approximately $160,000 per year.

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