By Katie Mulvaney-providencejournal
PROVIDENCE — The alleged leader of the state chapter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is asking the state Supreme Court to direct the judge presiding over his case to step aside based on an appearance of bias due to her husband’s 24-year career with the state police.
Joseph M. Lancia, 29, who authorities cast as the president of the Hells Angels in Rhode Island, is seeking for the court to review and vacate Superior Court Judge Kristin E. Rodgers’ rulings in which she refused to recuse herself from sitting on a case accusing Lancia of shooting a man outside the club’s 161-163 Messer St. clubhouse.
Rodgers has twice rejected Lancia’s claims, which center on status as the wife of Little Compton Police Chief Scott N. Raynes, who retired as a state police lieutenant in February 2018.
“Chief Raynes’ past employment with the State Police, ending over one year before the events leading to the criminal charges in this indictment, has no connection, real or reasonably perceptible, to the conduct of this trial or the pretrial proceedings that would create the appearance of impropriety,” Rodgers wrote July 28. Her second ruling came after she agreed to hear additional arguments “out of an abundance of caution.”
State prosecutors have dismissed Lancia’s arguments, saying they are “irrelevant to the charges and are clearly just a ploy to create the appearance of a conflict.”
“We are reviewing the petition and will respond in court as appropriate,” Blake Collins, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said in an email.
Lancia is asking the high court to review Rodgers’ rulings, arguing that “actual” improprieties occurred that would lead a reasonable person to question the judge’s impartiality.
Lancia asserts that Rodgers should automatically disqualify herself from the case based on three separate grounds in which Rodgers violated the state Code of Judicial Conduct.
Lancia alleges a “significant” violation when Rodgers failed to disclose that Raynes had history with the state police tactical team — information that his lawyer, Joseph J. Voccola, says was revealed in Rodgers’ first ruling April 29.
Lancia argues, too, that Rodgers was barred from issuing that ruling by an executive order by Superior Court Presiding Justice Alice B. Gibney at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, which he says gave him until May 29 to file a supplemental brief.
Finally, he argues that “by interposing facts into the record,” Judge Rodgers “ultimately buttressed” the state’s objection to his recusal motion. In doing so, Rodgers became “an advocate/participant, rather than an impartial trier of fact, requiring her recusal” under court precedent, he said.
Lancia, of 40 Fanning Lane, Greenville, was arrested in June 2019 as part of an investigation into reports of shots fired near the West Side clubhouse.
Authorities say Lancia fired a shot at Richard Starnino as he drove his truck by the club, striking the car but not injuring anyone. Lancia says that Starnino, who was charged with assaulting a Hells Angels member’s ex-girlfriend shortly before the incident, had persistently threatened him and pointed a gun as he drove past.
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A grand jury later indicted Lancia on charges of assault with intent to murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence, and carrying a pistol without a permit, the state police said. He has pleaded not guilty.
Lancia plans to challenge the validity of search warrants used by state police in their raid of the clubhouse that were written by an officer he argues was once supervised by Rodgers’ husband.