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Cranston Battle Over Cumberland Farms Draws Attention to Lawyer Who Wears Many Hats

Friday, February 09, 2018

 

One of the loudest fights in Rhode Island currently is centered around locating a Cumberland Farms in the historic Edgewood section of Cranston.

Now, new questions are emerging from opponents that the attorney for the convenience store chain — John Bolton of the Providence law firm Hinckley Allen Snyder — has a number of different roles in Cranston -- which some perceive creates an appearance of a conflict.

Bolton is a municipal court judge in Cranston, the lead attorney for the mega-convenience store chain, and is a political donor to a number of the members of the City Council.

If the proposed Cumberland Farms is approved by the Cranston Planning Board at its March 6 meeting, then the City Council will review the proposal.

Residents opposed to Cumberland Farms are crying foul.

"He’s [Bolton] made some hefty contributions to the council members who voted him in as judge. Those same councilors are now sponsoring his Cumberland Farms proposal," said Lisa Gibbs, and Edgewood resident and member of the group “Edgewood Doesn't Want Cumberland Farms. "May not be illegal, but it’s ugly."

Bolton is big-time political donor in Rhode Island. He has given nearly $15,000 to a range of elected officials including $1000 to Cranston Councilman Michael Farina, of which $500 came in November of 2017 just as the process was moving forward on Cumberland Farms' application.

Bolton has also donated $3,875 to Cranston Mayor Allan Fung. And, Cranston Councilman Christopher Paplauskas has received $100 from Bolton — as well as $250 from another member of the Bolton household, Colleen Bolton in November of 2017. 

In addition, Bolton has funneled dollars through his law firm’s political action committee. Over the past decade, the firm’s PAC has given more than $100,000 to a range of politicians.

"I will say that in the past I have donated to nearly every member of the City Council, both past and present members. I fail to see what conflict issue [is being raised]," said Bolton

John Bolton, Hinckley Allen

Bolton Defends His Dual Roles

Bolton defends himself and claims he has researched the issue of the dueling roles in the city.

Regarding his role in serving both as Associate Judge of the City of Cranston Municipal Court and lawyer for Cumberland Farms:

"There was no need to seek an advisory opinion, as this issue has been decided by the RI Ethics Commission previously, pursuant to several consistent Advisory Opinions.  Please be assured that I thoroughly researched this issue prior to accepting my appointment as an Associate Judge for the Cranston Municipal Court,” said Bolton in an email to GoLocalProv.

Bolton said he followed the following advisory opinion and claims that it gives him clearance for serving as a private attorney before the city and continue to serve as a municipal judge.

"For example, please refer to Advisory Opinion No. 2003-71," said Bolton, referencing the following:

“It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, the Tiverton Municipal Court Judge, and members of the law firm by which he is employed may represent private clients before the Tiverton Town Council, Zoning Board of Review and other municipal bodies, including individuals charged with criminal offenses by the Tiverton Police Department, provided that the representation is not related to a matter in which he is involved as Municipal Court Judge or over which the Municipal Court has jurisdiction.”

"See also Advisory Opinion 2005-29, which provides, in part," added Bolton. 

“The Commission has consistently opined that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit municipal judges from representing clients before other municipal bodies where they do not have jurisdiction over such matters in their judicial role.  See A.O. 2003-34 (City of Newport Municipal Court Judge may represent private clients before the Newport Zoning Board of Review, provided that the case is not related to a matter in which he is involved as a Municipal Court Judge or over which the Municipal Court has jurisdiction.) See also A.O. 2001-18 (Westerly Probate Judge may assist Westerly Town Solicitor by representing Town’s interests in litigation matters, provided that case is not related to matter in which he is involved as Probate Court Judge or over which Probate Court has jurisdiction);  A.O. 99-19 (Cranston Probate Court Judge may represent private clients before Cranston City Council, Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Review, provided that case is not related to matter in which he is involved as Probate Court Judge or over which Probate Court has jurisdiction).”

Bolton claims, "As you may see from the above [cases I have emailed], it is the well-settled opinion of the RI Ethics Commission that these situations do not represent conflicts and do not violate RI ethics rules."

 

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