Judge Ovalles will retire after critical report

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – R.I. District Court Judge Rafael Ovalles has decided to retire rather than continue to fight a disciplinary board’s recommendation that he be removed from the bench, Eyewitness News has learned.

Ovalles informed Gov. Gina Raimondo of his decision in a letter Thursday, and said his retirement will take effect Oct. 31. “The unfolding events during these past few years has led me to conclude that the honorable course of action for my family, our state judiciary and myself is to retire,” he wrote.

In August, the R.I. Supreme Court Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline issued a 240-page report that found Ovalles had committed 41 violations of the Rhode Island Code of Judicial Conduct and said he had engaged in “extensive” misconduct. The high court was now weighing whether to remove him.

Ovalles said he had determined it was “necessary” for him to step down because his “ability to serve effectively has been compromised as a result of the disciplinary complaints filed against me.” He also apologized “for any distractions that the recent disciplinary proceedings may have caused.”

“Now, after clearing my name of the most personal and serious allegations, I am retiring from regular active service to bring closure to this matter,” Ovalles wrote – alluding to the disciplinary board’s dismissal of the eyebrow-raising accusation that court employees had seen him with his pants off in chambers.

Asked whether Ovalles will qualify for retirement benefits when he retires, judiciary spokesman Craig Berke said: “It is the court administration’s position, on the advice of its general counsel, that Judge Ovalles is not entitled to a pension.”

Ovalles, who immigrated to Rhode Island from the Dominican Republic at age 10, became the state’s first Hispanic judge when he was appointed to the bench in 2005 by then-Gov. Don Carcieri.

After repeated reassignments by Chief Judge Jeanne Lafazia, Ovalles was finally relieved of his duties in December 2015 due to the various complaints about his behavior. The judicial tenure panel held an 18-day hearing into Ovalles earlier this year.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook