With ethics concerns put to rest, Caprio named Providence judge emeritus

THE PROVIDENCE CITY COUNCIL on Thursday elected former Providence Municipal Court Chief Judge Frank Caprio to a volunteer, emeritus role in the court after settling concerns over Caprio's role in TV courtroom drama "Caught in Providence." /PBN FILE PHOTO/CHRIS BERGENHEIM

PROVIDENCE – Ethical concerns over a longtime city judge’s role in a TV courtroom drama have been put to rest, with the Providence City Council naming former Chief Judge Frank Caprio to a volunteer, emeritus position.

The council on Thursday unanimously voted to elect Caprio as Chief Judge Emeritus of the Providence Municipal Court, following his retirement after nearly four decades on the bench. The election, which came swiftly and without discussion, came after ethical concerns surfaced about Caprio’s judgeship and his participation in locally filmed, reality TV show, “Caught in Providence.”

Council President Rachel Miller previously asked the city solicitor’s office to look into any potential ethics violations stemming from Caprio’s position on the bench and his role on the TV show, as well as the relationship between the city and the show, which takes place inside the Providence Public Safety Complex.

The conclusion? There’s not much to worry about. That’s partly because Caprio has retired from the bench and is not being paid by the city. Originally, the solicitor’s office suggested Caprio ask for an updated advisory opinion from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, which first weighed in on Caprio’s brother’s role in the show in 2015, Parker Gavigan, city council spokesman, told PBN in an email. But now that Caprio is retired, that’s not necessary.

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The city solicitor’s office also found no records of agreements between the city and the TV show that authorized the program to be filmed, according to Gavigan. And while the TV show may continue in some way, it won’t be filmed inside a Providence courtroom anymore, the judge’s brother, Joseph Caprio, wrote on Facebook.

Miller in a statement on Caprio’s retirement praised him for his service without commenting on the ethics concerns.

Caprio served as a judge on the Providence Municipal Court for 38 years. A Providence native, he attended Classical High School and Providence College. He also served on the Providence City Council and as former chairman of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education. 

As judge emeritus, Caprio serves as an unpaid advisor to the Providence Municipal Court. It’s unclear what his specific duties will be.

The council also elected and swore in three judges to the Providence Municipal Court on Thursday: Chief Judge John Lombardi and Associate Judges Vanessa Crum and Daniel McKiernan. Crum is also the first African-American woman elected to the municipal court, according to the city.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. Contact her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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