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Rhode Island Court Records

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How Does the Rhode Island Superior Court?

The Rhode Island Superior Court is the state’s court of general jurisdiction. It is the state’s trial court of record and has exclusive authority to hold hearings for jury trials. It also has the authority to hear both criminal and civil matters, using jury and non-jury trial methods. 

The Superior Court may exercise original jurisdiction over all felony cases and matters of equity. The Rhode Island court system also allows the Superior Court to exercise original jurisdiction for all civil matters with an amount in controversy higher than $10,000. The Superior Court also handles civil matters with disagreements over the title, interests, and rights to real estate. Generally, the Superior Court hears cases that are not within the jurisdiction of other Rhode Island courts.

The Rhode Island court system also allows the Superior Court to exercise concurrent jurisdiction with the District Court over civil cases where the amount in controversy is between $5,000 and $10,000. The court also has concurrent jurisdiction with the Rhode Island Supreme Court in issuing writs of mandamus and habeas corpus. 

Rhode Island Probate Courts also share jurisdiction with the Superior Court over name changes and trusts of adults with felony or misdemeanor convictions.

Parties to cases decided in District Court trials may appeal to the Superior Court. District Courts exercise jurisdiction over misdemeanor matters and channel appeals to the Superior Court. Appeals received by the Superior Court result in an entirely new trial, and its rulings may also be appealed. Note that since the Rhode Island judicial system does not provide intermediate appellate courts, Superior Court appeals go directly to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

In addition to the state’s District Courts, the Rhode Island Superior Court also exercises appellate jurisdiction over rulings from probate and local municipal courts. The court also hears appeals from commissions and boards in the state, including the Ethics Commission and Zoning Board. State and local police officers may petition the Rhode Island Superior Court to review any disciplinary action imposed by the police department’s chief.

The Rhode Island Superior Court has a Presiding Justice who serves as the administrative judge of the court. The Presiding Justice receives assistance from 21 Associate Justices and five Magistrates. Other court members include the Superior Court Administrator, the Jury Commissioner, and a Superior Court Clerk for each Superior Court.

The Presiding Justice plays an administrative and supervisory role at the Superior Court. The responsibility for assigning judges, establishing calendars, and selecting a Superior Court Administrator rests on the Presiding Justice. The responsibilities also extend to appointing other administrative staff as well as making and enforcing rules to follow in conducting all of the Superior Court’s business. Also, the Presiding Judge must select staff responsible for the Case Scheduling Office, the Superior Court Clerk’s Office, the Central Registry, and the Arbitration Office. The Presiding Judge also selects the Superior Court’s Jury Commissioner.

All judicial appointments in the Rhode Island Superior Court use the merit system. This begins with a nomination from the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission. The Commission recommends between three and five candidates for the position of a Justice to the state governor. The governor then selects one of the candidates who is appointed a Justice after confirmation from the Senate. Note that there is no retirement age for Superior Court Justices.

A Superior Court Justice has a lifetime tenure, which may end by resignation or removal. The removal process typically begins when a complaint is filed against a Superior Court judge. The Rhode Island Judiciary has a Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline, which investigates complaints against any Justice or Magistrate of the Superior Court. The following are typical violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct:

  • Willful and continuous failure to perform expected judicial duties
  • Disabling addiction to narcotics, drugs, or alcohol
  • Physical or mental incapacitation that seriously interferes and will further interfere with the Justice’s or Magistrate’s ability to perform expected judicial duties
  • Any conduct that brings the judicial office to serious disrepute

To decide on allegations against a judge, the Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline will set a formal hearing date. After the hearing, and based on points argued, the Commission decides whether the charges against the judge are sustained. The decision on sustainment should be made by at least nine members of the Commission who were in court throughout the hearing. Upon sustainment, the Commission sends a report of its finding to the Supreme Court, clearly stating a recommendation of suspension, retirement, censure, reprimand, or removal. 

For removal, the judge must be convicted by trial after the House of Representatives has passed an impeachment vote. Note that the Commission may recommend the immediate but temporary suspension of the Judge or Magistrate pending a final decision.

The five counties in Rhode Island are divided into four judicial districts. Each judicial district has a Superior Court, with one of the courts having territorial jurisdiction in Bristol and Providence counties. The following are the addresses and contact information of Rhode Island Superior Courts:

Providence and Bristol County Superior Court

Licht Judicial Complex

250 Benefit Street

Providence, RI 02903

Phone: (401) 222–3250

Washington County Superior Court

McGrath Judicial Complex

4800 Tower Hill Road

Wakefield, RI 02879

Phone: (401) 782–4121

Kent County Superior Court

Noel Judicial Complex

222 Quaker Lane

Warwick, RI 02886

Phone: (401) 822–6900

Newport County Superior Court

Murray Judicial Complex

45 Washington Square

Newport, RI 02840

Phone: (401) 841–8330

Rhode Island Superior Court records are considered public and are therefore available to interested persons upon request. However, note that the amount of information accessible may be restricted depending on the requesting party. For example, access to confidential information is not available to members of the public. The Superior Court will only allow access to confidential information if the requestor is directly involved in the case, either as a party to the case, an attorney, or a self-represented litigant.

Interested persons may visit the Superior Court that handled the case for courthouse access to case information. Persons would be required to provide all available information on the desired record. The respective Superior Court locations shall have computer terminals in the clerk’s offices, to be used by the requestor.

The Rhode Island Judiciary also provides remote access to case information through its public portal. Self-represented litigants, members of the general public, and parties to the case may access the public online portal. However, note that parties in a case, self-represented litigants, and the general public may only access the court’s register of actions or docket. Also, access to the online public portal requires a registered account. 

Interested persons should email the Judicial Technology Center (JTC) at helpdesk@courts.ri.gov. Requestors should attach the Request for Access to Case Information form and a signed Subscription Agreement included in the form. The JTC will respond to the email with further instructions.

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