The Warwick City Council Appointments Committee will have two important appointments up for consideration during their upcoming meeting on Monday night, but its chairman, freshman Ward 4 Councilman James McElroy, will be unable to participate in one of them.
This is because his daughter, Kelly McElroy, is up for consideration to become one of two new municipal court judges. The other on the docket for consideration is Kevin Murphy. The pair, if approved, would replace Joel Gerstenblatt, who has been the city’s municipal court judge since being appointed by Lincoln Chafee, according to Council President Steve Merolla.
The McElroy relationship raises questions as to whether there was some quid pro quo going on between Councilman McElroy and Mayor Joseph Solomon. McElroy donated to Solomon’s campaign for mayor in 2018, and Solomon endorsed McElroy and supported his bid for Ward 4 – a seat that for nearly two decades was controlled by Solomon.
However, Solomon denied any malfeasance, defending Kelly McElroy’s legal experience and insisting that having two municipal court judges would save Warwick taxpayers at least $10,000 – because the job will become part time for both of them and not come with healthcare or other benefits.
“These people, they didn’t just materialize. They’ve got credentials that match their abilities,” Solomon said during an interview on Wednesday. “Most importantly is this will be a cost saving measure for the city, going from the one judge to the two.”
“She’s the councilman’s daughter, but that’s not the reason she was selected. I’ve known Kelly McElroy since she was a little girl,” he continued. “I’ve seen her work hard through her high school, college, post-college. She has been a great jurist, she was a prosecutor for the Attorney General’s office, she’s been legal counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. She’s been a candidate herself for superior court judicial appointments and made it to the final selected few by ultimate layers of committees. I felt she would be a good choice for the city. I feel any of those choices, both her and Kevin, are great choices.”
According to his law firm website, Murphy first served as a fellow for Senator Jack Reed in Washington, and then as a clerk for Maureen McKenna Goldberg, Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice. He then became Title Counsel for the Boston office of Old Republic National Title Insurance Company. Murphy then went to the Home Loan Investment Bank as Vice President and general counsel for eight years before joining Adler Pollock & Sheehan P.C., practicing in the law firm's Corporate Practice Group.
Merolla said on Wednesday he was surprised by the news that there would be two potential appointees before the council on Monday.
“Nobody had contacted me,” he said. “I think he [Gerstenblatt] did an outstanding job. I don’t see why there would need to be a change.”